Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Take a tip from Hitler … on energy

Barry Farber

Whoever it was who wrote, "The rich are not like you and me" never had a fraction of the proof I offer right now.

The most luxurious apartment buildings line New York's Fifth and Park Avenues. A few years ago the union representing the doormen, elevator men and other service personnel of those "billionaires' barracks" was unhappy. A doorman greeted one of the nicer and wealthier tenants one morning and said, "It looks like we're going out on strike. I'm sorry I won't be able to bring you your laundry and dry cleaning until it's over. The tenant stopped, frowned and finally said, "What in the world am I going to do?"

"Well," replied the doorman. "You'll just have to go around the corner to the cleaner's and pick it up yourself."

"Good heavens," exclaimed the tenant. "Are you allowed to do that?"

And that may give us the key to solving our energy crisis!

For all his worldly success, that tenant never realized he was "allowed" to go pick up his own laundry. And for all our arguing and anguishing over fuel costs and energy dependence on countries that hate us, I'll bet your honest answer to this next question is, "I don't know. Tell me!" Here's the question: "The late Adolf Hitler, starting with territory the size of Texas – and without one single oil well – conquered territory larger than the United States. Where did he get the fuel?"

He "gasified" coal. Using the "coal-into-gasoline" technology of the 1930s and '40s, the Nazis kept those gas-gobbling Tiger tanks and all their other vehicles rolling and huge air armadas flying from North Norway above the Arctic Circle to North Africa and from the Atlantic Ocean to the gates of Moscow. Nazi Germany picked up a little petroleum with the annexation of Austria and a little more through its ally Romania. I mention that only to keep agenda-crats, stupid and sinister, from accusing me of "conveniently leaving that out." Coal gasification made Hitler's war machine possible. It can now make America's energy independence possible.

America is the "Saudi Arabia of coal"!

I'm going to let Google do the heavy educating here. Just Google "gasifying coal" and you'll find almost three and a half million bits of homework; favorable by a landslide.

From the 1960s until this minute, on radio, TV, print and at dinner parties, I've pleaded for stealing Hitler's secret. When hordes of naysayers shouted it all down as "uneconomical," they originally made some sense. Oil was then only $10 a barrel. Today, you'd think all the demands for a new look at the possibilities of coal gasification would be overwhelming. They're not.

In fact, the history is kind of staggering. Turning coal into liquid and gas energy is nothing new. In the 1800s, Boston gasified coal to light its street lights. When the Arab world embargoed the oil America needed in the early 1970s, there was an up-zoom of interest in this "syn-fuel" technology. It evaporated the minute the crisis was over. In 2007 the Senate dropped a $10 billion research allocation for coal gasification.

There's no evidence the Obama administration knows what we're talking about. And that's strange, because the most outspoken champion of turning coal into gasoline is Montana's Democratic governor, Brian Schweitzer. Schweitzer wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times in 2005 on coal gasification that was so convincing it almost made you want to drink the stuff. He was introduced on "60 Minutes" as the "Coal Cowboy." But nothing seems to take, stick or resonate. Schweitzer blames "Big Oil" for the attempt to wet-blanket coal gasification. That works with me. Growing up in a liquor-less county in North Carolina I recall whenever a vote was coming up, the preachers and the bootleggers would join forces to "lead the dry"! Is that so different from the environmentalists and the oil people coalescing to strengthen the public's ignorance of coal gasification?

That coalition may now fracture over "fracking." Fracking is a controversial process by which oil and natural gas is retrievable by pressure-pumping millions of gallons of water and sand and "certain chemicals" into the ground. The oil folk say, "Clean bill of health." The environmentalists cry, "Poisonous!" There's no such cloud over gasification of coal. Germany didn't lose World War II because of pollution.

As you pore through the unending articles about coal gasification, it's easy to get a little hysterical about total American energy self-sufficiency, new jobs galore, no negative toxicity issues that survive serious scrutiny; and everything, not just affordable, but at today's oil prices, actually money-saving! Can this be happening to us?

The answer is no. At least, not until we learn it's OK to pick up our own dry cleaning.