Thursday, August 10, 2006

The problem is not petrol, its transport

Our political leaders such as John Howard and Steve Bracks have been quite remiss in not developing transport solutions that are sustainable and cost effective for the future.

We have known for some time that Australia's oil reserves will effectively run out in about a decade, Bass Strait oil runs out even sooner. Yet virtually no effort has been made to provide viable alternative transport modes and options. The focus has almost been exclusively on cars and trucks running on petroleum distillates (such as petrol or diesel), and on building freeways.

Now there is a predictable public backlash to petrol prices rising to nearly $1.50 per litre - which is inevitable as the world's oil supplies dwindle and wars rage . Within two years the price could rise to over $3.00 per litre, which will have massive flow-on effects for our economy and lifestyles.

So what are the gut reaction "solutions" proposed by some our parliamentarians?

  1. Ethanol (blended with petrol) - this is a nonsense solution as you need more fossil fuel inputs to grow crops and create then transport the ethanol than the energy value provided by the ethanol.
  2. Provide petrol subsidies (or removing the excise tax) - more short term thinking that will further encourage consumption and not address the root cause - that we are running out of oil
  3. LPG (liquid petroleum gas) - while this fuel is cheaper than petrol or diesel, it is a byproduct of refining crude oil, so it will run out when the oil reserves do, so this won't even buy us any time.
However, our reserves of natural gas (also from the oil fields) will last for over 30 years, and we could be running all our cars and trucks on compressed natural gas (CNG), but there has been no significant action on developing the infrastructure to supply this as fuel to consumers. Instead, we sell it by the shipload to China for 3 cents per litre, which is quite remarkable. We could use CNG to buy us more time to develop long term sustainable transport options.

Better public transport such as railways would also greatly reduce our increasing reliance on oil for fuel, but there has been very little investment in improving or extending our railway infrastructure or services over the last twenty years.

So, Greenprint suggestion #2 is to use CNG as fuel to buy us more time to develop long term solutions to our transport requirements.

Related article: Alaska puts heat on petrol, politicians

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