National Geographic : 1984 Jul
THE CONSERVATION FUELS How coal and uranium save oil To reduce our depen dence on oil, Americans are using more electricity, and our utilities are using more coal and uraniumto generate it. These secure, domestic fuels help con serve oil, so we depend less on imports, we send less money overseas, and we can use our existing oil and gas where they're really needed. When peopl esee lower oil prices and hear about an "oil glut," conserving oil doesn't seem so important. But the recession that spurred the oil glut-by put ting energy-intensive indus tries into decline and turning consumers into conservers is going away. As the American economy recovers, we will be using more and more electricity. America's use of electricity has histori cally grown hand in hand with our GNP. We need enough electricity to sustain a healthy economy. But we need to con serve oil, too. Here's how we can do both. Why we still need to conserve oil Conserving oil is still critically important for several reasons: * The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that even with new discoveries, our oil resources will be depleted in 36 years, at current production levels. * We now import approxi mately 25 percent of our oil at a cost of about $60 billion a year, and our imports are again growing, increasing our trade deficit and our vulnerability to foreign suppliers. * Economic recovery world wide will trigger increased oil importing by other countries. Greater demand could push prices up again. * With the political uncer tainties in the Middle East, another oil disruption is a real possibility. * Our existing oil and gas supplies need to be preserved for more essential uses: oil for transportation and petro chemicals; gas for home heat ing and certain industrial uses. The government recognized the value of oil and gas years ago and passed the 1978 Fuel Use Act, restricting the con struction of any major new oil or gas-fired electricity plants. Electricity: a conservation tool Electricity is often more efficient than the direct burn ing of oil or gas, and many industries have switched in creasingly to electricity to improve productivity. This has made electricity an integral part of our grow ing economy. But since oil is no longer a wise choice for electricity generation, what sources can we count on for a secure, dependable supply?