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Students get scoop on cutting dependence on foreign oil

About 300 students from the northern suburbs learned how America can reduce its reliance on foreign oil and strengthen its economy during a panel discussion sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh.

The students learned that the United States spends $600 billion a year on foreign oil. America has less than 5 percent of the world’s population but uses 20 percent of the world’s oil.

“If we do not solve this problem, the world we’re heading into will be a much more difficult world than the world we’re headed into today,” said Anne Korin, co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Potomac, Md.

She was one of three speakers at the Nov. 4 seminar at Seneca Valley Intermediate High School in Harmony. The others were Jack Crook, compliance chief of oil and gas for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and Jean-Dominique Le Garrec, principal engineer of Westinghouse Electric Co. and an honorary consult of France in Pittsburgh.

Korin said the solution is not simply drilling for more oil here but rather tweaking the software in the nation’s cars so that they would run on ethanol and methanol as well as gas. That would give drivers a choice of what fuel to use but would add just $100 to the cost of each car.

Crook said there is 500 trillion cubic feet of gas in the Marcellus shale, the gas pocket that runs a mile beneath Appalachia. Of that, probably 10 percent can be recovered.

“This is a large boon to the state of Pennsylvania,” he said.

His department has been concerned about the impact of drilling on the quality of the state’s water.

“No water well has been impacted by the actual process of hydraulic fracturing,” Crook said after the discussion. “The complaints we have of water well contamination are generally due to spills on the surface.”

Le Garrec, a native of France, said his country generated most of its electricity from foreign oil until 1973. Lacking oil, natural gas and now coal, France turned to nuclear energy after the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74.

Since 1978, the number of generators in France has grown from four to 58, which produce 80 percent of the country’s electricity. Westinghouse worked on many of those plants.

Afterward, students said they found the discussion useful.

“I didn’t know about any of this stuff before now, but now I really get it,” said Kaleigh Ruiz, 14, a Seneca Valley freshman from Cranberry.

“We need to become more reliant on resources other than oil, and that will be easier to do in the future,” said Rochelle Rogalski, 16, a Seneca Valley sophomore from Cranberry.


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