Dependence on Middle East oil is called security risk

Officials urge investors to develop ethanol as alternative energy source

October 12, 2001|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

A congressman and a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency yesterday warned that the country is flirting with economic disaster by depending so heavily on Middle East oil, and he encouraged Maryland to move forward with plans to build an alternative fuel plant.

"Depending on Middle East oil has been a bad idea for a long time," said R. James Woolsey, "and after the morning of Sept. 11 it became a national security issue for even the dimmest bulb in Washington."

Woolsey, who served as CIA director in 1993 and 1994, spoke at the Maryland State Ethanol Workshop, which attracted representatives from technology companies, farm organizations and federal and state governments.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, the 6th District Republican, said the U.S. is twice as dependent on Middle East oil today as it was during the Arab oil embargo of 1973. "That's a national security risk," he said. "If the Arab nations cut off our oil supply today, our economy could not function."

Both men, along with more than a half-dozen other speakers encouraged investors to proceed with plans to build an ethanol plant on the Eastern Shore. The Maryland Grain Producers Association has proposed the construction of a $30 million factory that would produce 15 million gallons of ethanol a year.

Ethanol is a gasoline substitute or "extender" that is made from a wide variety of renewable products including corn, wheat, barley, grass and sweet potatoes.

Lynne Hoot, executive director of the grain association, said the group would not actually build the plant, but would assist in finding investors for the project. It hopes to raise $12 million and borrow the balance.

Charles Miller, research manager at the Maryland Energy Administration, said gasoline usage in Maryland has risen 30 percent since 1990. He warned that gasoline prices will continue to rise over the next 10 years "unless we look at alternative fuels."

Valerie Reed, a program manager at the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fuels Development, said the conference was the latest in a series held by her agency to stimulate interest in alternative fuels.

She said the U.S. has 2 percent of the world's known oil reserves, uses 26 percent of the world's oil supply and produces only 12 percent.

Ethanol production is growing, but the industry is still tiny, said Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, a Washington-based trade association.

He said there are currently 60 ethanol plants and they produce 1.8 billion gallons a year. He said 12 plants are under construction and 34 existing plants are being expanded.

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