Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Conserving Celebrates Life

There are many ways we can show respect for our land. One way is how we may save a simple thing like our motor oil.

Let’s Conserve Our Oil!
We in America can better use and conserve our oil. Each year we use 230 billion gallons of the world’s petroleum supplies. We send more than $200,000 every minute overseas in our yearly consumption of over 7 billion barrels of oil products. Since the USA constitutes 5% of the world’s population, 25 % of the world’s oil, and yet it produces 22% of climate-altering CO2, we have a tremendous opportunity to best save our oil.

For the past twenty-six years I have tracked do-it-yourself automotive fluids from every possible angle. I help begin this effort in Montgomery County, Maryland and started DC’s used oil recycling efforts. I even helped build a used oil recycling facility and several years ago volunteered a month in southern Africa to promote efforts there. On the front end, there is the one trillion gallons of oilfield waste we inject into deep wells in addition to the 3 billion tons of oil and gas wastes we generate yearly by our oil and gas exploration and production in the US. On the back end, we waste 400 million gallons of used oil and 400 million plus oil filters yearly in the United States. Even the environmental science or current sampling method to evaluate the toxicity of oil, Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) is not the best test since it was designed for municipal landfills. I ask you to simply reflect on the fact that one gallon of used oil improperly disposed can contaminate one million gallons of fresh water, or ruin 50 people’s water supply for a year.

Just in the last four years, Virginian motorists disposed of 11.2 million gallons of oil, equivalent to the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. The improper disposal of used oil, oil filters, and antifreeze by those who perform their own automobile maintenance is a ubiquitous environmental concern. Three to 4.5 million gallons of used oil, 4.7 to 5.9 million oil filters, and approximately one million gallons of antifreeze were "lost" in Virginia’s environment. Virginians who change their own oil and antifreeze account for roughly 45% of those owning passenger cars, where 15-30% of these materials are believed to be recovered. Even the disposal of discarded oil filters and plastic containers reveals a residual amount of oil whose sheer volume is alarming.

Each year, the United States generates approximately 1.351 billion gallons of used oil; only 57 percent of this used oil is accounted for through recycling. The roughly 45 million people who change their own oil, the so-called do-it-yourselfers (DIYs), are a major source of improperly disposed used oil. It is estimated that between 193 to 400 million gallons of used oil are released into the environment each year in this manner. Clearly we can prevent pollution if we design our products to minimize waste. One innovative approach would be to promote reusable oil filters that are compatible with engines that use the one-piece sealed spin-on filter. No modifications or tools are required to install these filters on any engine that uses a spin-on filter, and they allow for the recovery of all used motor oil. The assembly housing is reused; only the paper element is replaced, and this can be easily recycled or burned for energy. Widespread adoption of these reusable filter systems would virtually eliminate used oil being trapped in filters and steel filters entering landfills. If produced in volume, this filter could be manufactured for under a dollar. At the point of final sale the filter could cost less than the current spin-on filter. Reusable filters were popular up to the early 1960s and are still widely used in the racing industry.Our prosperity will only continue when we lead by conserving not by despoiling.

There are many ingenious ways to stimulate oil conservation. For example we can increase fuel economy standards to 40 miles per gallon. If we adopted this standard by 2012 we could conserve 15 times more oil than the Arctic Refuge is likely to produce over 50 years. It will take ten years to bring Arctic Refuge oil as an energy supply and will result in no more than two percent of our oil supply needs. EPA estimates that increase in gas mileage of 3 mpg industry-wide could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 140 million metric tons lessening global warming. More fuel efficient cars and trucks would reduce the 20% contribution we emit in carbon dioxide and cut oil consumption by one million barrels per day.

Simple conservation of oil will lessen habitat destruction, spills, and air pollution. Our energy security efforts must support more frugal and environmentally- benign avenues to save oil. It is time we take make wiser use of our rapidly depleting petroleum supplies. We must make our "oil can" mightier than the sword and as a nation embrace thrifty management of our black gold.

Rob Arner lives in the home of the Civilian Conservation Corps—Edinburg, Virginia.