Conservation Through Engineering Part 2

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Whether on land or sea, fuel oil is preferred to coal because it requires fewer firemen, and back of that, in the man power required in its mining, preparation, and transportation the advantage on the side of oil is even greater. So, too, the substitute for gasoline in internal-combustion engines, whether alcohol or benzol, means higher cost and larger expenditure of labor in its production.

There are large bodies of public land now withdrawn, which, under the new leasing bill which seems so near to final passage after seven years of struggle and baffled hope, will in all likelihood make a further rich contribution to the American supply.


And beyond these in point of time lie the vast deposits of oil shale which by a comparatively cheap refining process can be made to yield vastly more oil than has yet been found in pools or sands. The value of this oil shale will depend upon the cheapness of its reduction, and this must be greatly lessened by the value of by-products before it can compete with coal or the oil from wells. There is every reason to believe, however, that some day the production of oil from shale will be a great and a permanent industry. And the country could make no better immediate investment than to give a large appropriation for the development of an economical shale-reducing plant.

So conservative an authority as the Geological Survey estimates that the oil shales of the Western States alone contain many times over the quantity of oil that will be recovered from our oil wells. The retorting of oil from oil shale has been a commercial industry for many years in Scotland and France; in fact, oil was obtained from oil shale here in the United States before the first oil well was drilled. The industry is in process of redevelopment to-day and if successful will assure us of a future supply, but at the best it will take years of time and a vast investment of capital to build up the industry to such a point that it can supply any considerable proportion of our needs. It is imperative, however, that the development of this latent resource be furthered and brought to a state of commercial development as soon as possible.


Yet with all the optimism that can be justified I would urge a policy of saving as to petroleum that should be rigid in the extreme. If we are to long enjoy the benefits of a petroleum age, which we must frankly admit fits into the comfort-loving and the speed-loving side of the American nature, we must save this oil.

We must save it before it leaves the well; keep it from being lost; keep it from being flooded out, driven away by water. Through the cementing of wells in the Cushing field, Oklahoma, the daily volume of water lifted from the wells was decreased from 7,520 barrels to 628 barrels, while the daily volume of oil produced was increased from 412 barrels to 4,716. These instances show what can and should be done in our known oil fields.

We must save the oil after it leaves the well, save it from draining off and sinking into the soil, save it from leaking away at pipe joinings, save it from the wastes of imperfect storage.

Then we come to the refining of the oil. How welcome now would be the knowledge that we could recover what was thrown away when kerosene was petroleum's one great fraction. (The loss in refineries is still startling, some 14,556,000 barrels last year--4-1/2 per cent of the crude run in the refineries.)

The self-interest of the American refiner, notably the Standard Oil Co., has done a work that probably no mere scientific or noncommercial impulse could have equaled, in torturing out of petroleum the secrets of its inmost nature. And yet the thought will not altogether give place that in that residue which goes to the making of roads or to be burned in some crude way there may be things chemical that will work largely for man's betterment. This is the fact, too--that where the oil is produced by some small companies which have not the financial ability to make it yield its full riches there is a greater danger of loss of this kind. It would be well indeed if there could be such regulation as would require that all petroleum must be refined. That this is done generally is not denied. It should be universal. And all the skill and study and knowledge of the ablest of chemists and mechanicians should find themselves challenged by the problem of petroleum.

Coming to the use of petroleum in its various forms we find a field of promise. The engine that doubles the number of miles that can be made on a gallon of gasoline doubles our supply. There is where we can apply the principle of true conservation--find how little you need; use what you must, but treat your resource with respect. Has the last word been said as to the carburetor? Mechanical engineers do not think so. Have all possible mixtures which will save oil and substitute cheaper and less rare combustibles therefor been tried? Men by the hundred are making these experiments, and almost daily the quack or the stock promoter comes forward with the announcement of a discovery which proves to be a revelation--a revelation of human stupidity or criminal cupidity. On this line the men of science do not sing a song of the richest hope; they shrug their shoulders, exclaiming with uplifted hands: "Well, may be, may be."

There are possible substitutes for some petroleum products, but not for the whole barrel of oil; furthermore, petroleum is the cheapest material, speaking quantitatively, from which liquid fuels and lubricants can be made; therefore, any substitutes obtained in quantity must cost more. Alcohol can be substituted for gasoline, but only in limited quantity and at increased cost. Benzol from byproduct coking ovens also can be used, but quantitatively is totally inadequate. For kerosene no quantitative substitute is known. Lubricants can be obtained from animal and vegetable fats, but mostly are inferior in quality, and there seems no hope of obtaining them in quantity. Fuel oil can be largely supplanted by coal, but for the internal-combustion engine there is no quantitative substitute.


We have ventured on a great shipbuilding program. Our people are to once again respond to the call of the sea. On private ways and on Government ways ships are being built to go round the world--ships that are to burn oil under boilers and produce steam. I presume that there is a justification for this policy, perhaps one that is as good, if not better, than can be made for the railroads of the West pursuing the same policy. I submit, however, that there should be justification shown for the construction of any oil-burning ship which does not use an engine of the Diesel type. To burn oil under a boiler and convert it into steam releases but 10 per cent of the thermal units in the oil, whereas if this same fuel oil were used directly in a Diesel engine, 30 to 35 per cent of the power in the oil would be secured. Substitute the internal-combustion engine for the steam boiler and we multiply by three or three and one-half the supply of fuel oil in the United States.

Instead of our fuel-oil supply being, let us say, 200,000,000 barrels, it would at once rise to 600,000,000 barrels or 700,000,000. I recognize that this is an impractical and unrealizable hope as applied to things as they are, but there is no reason why this should not be a very definite policy as to things that are to be.

This Government might itself well undertake to develop an engine of this type for use on its ships, tractors, and trucks. We simply can not afford to preach economy in oil when we do not promote by every means the use of the internal-combustion engine for its consumption. No other one thing that can be done by the Government, our industries, or the people will save as much oil from being wasted and thereby multiply the real production of the United States. If such engines are delicate of handling and need specially trained engineers, which appears to be the fact, there should be little difficulty experienced in training men for such work. A nation that could educate 10,000 automobile mechanics in 60 days might indeed develop 1,000 Diesel engineers in a year. The matter is of too great moment for delay. It touches the interest of everyone.

We are in the petroleum age, and how long it will last depends upon our own foresight, inventiveness, and wisdom.


Already we are importers of petroleum. We are to be larger importers year by year if we continue--and we will--to invent and build machines which will rely upon oil or its derivatives as fuel. Our business methods have been and doubtless will continue to be developed along lines that make a continuing oil supply a necessity. Some of that oil must come from abroad, as nearly 40,000,000 barrels did last year, and for that we must compete with the world. For while we are the discoverers of oil and of the methods of securing it and refining it, piping it, and using it, our pioneering is but a service unto the world.

This situation calls for a policy prompt, determined, and looking many years ahead. For the American Navy and the American merchant marine and American trade abroad must depend to some extent upon our being able to secure, not merely for to-day but for to-morrow as well, an equal opportunity with other nations to gain a petroleum supply from the fields of the world. We are now in the world and of it in every possible sense, otherwise our Navy and our merchant fleet would have no excuse.

No one needs to justify them--they are the expression of an ambition that carries no danger to any people. For their support we can ask no preference, but in their maintenance we can insist that they shall not be discriminated against.

Sometime since I presented to a board of geologists, engineers, and economists in this department this question:

If in the next five years there should develop a new demand for petroleum over and above that now existing, which would amount to 100,000,000 barrels a year, where could such a supply be found, and what policy should be adopted to secure it?

The conclusions of this board may be summarized as follows:

(1) Such an oil need could not be met from domestic sources of supply.

(2) It could not be assured unless equal opportunities were given our nationals for commercial development of foreign oils.

(3) Assurance of this oil supply therefore inevitably entails political as well as commercial competition with other nationals, as other nationals controlling foreign sources of supply have adopted policies that discriminate against, hinder, and even prevent our nationals entering foreign fields.

(4) The encouragement of and effective assistance to our nationals in developing foreign fields is essential to securing the oil needed.

(5) Commercial control by our nationals over large foreign sources of supply will be essential if the estimated requirements are to be assured.

(6) It is necessary that all countries be induced to abandon or adequately modify present discriminatory policies and that the interest of our nationals be protected.

(7) Some form of world-wide oil-producing, purchasing, and marketing agency fostered by this Government seems essential to assure the commercial control over sufficient resources to meet the competition of other nationals. England has apparently adopted such a policy.

This board proposed the following program of action:

(1) To secure the removal of all discriminations to the end that our nationals may enjoy in other countries all the privileges now enjoyed by other nationals in ours:

(_a_) By appropriate diplomatic and trade measures.

(_b_) By securing equal rights to our nationals in countries newly organized as mandatories.

(2) To encourage our nationals to acquire, develop, and market oil in foreign countries:

(_a_) By assured adequate protection of our citizens engaged in securing and developing foreign oil fields.

(_b_) By promotion of syndication of our nationals engaged in foreign business, in order to effectually conduct oil development and distribution of petroleum and its products abroad.

(3) Governmental action--through special agency or board:

(_a_) Through the organization of a subsidiary governmental corporation with power to produce, purchase, refine, transport, store, and market oil and oil products.

(_b_) Through the formation of a permanent petroleum administration.

(4) To assure to our nationals the exclusive opportunity to explore, develop, and market the oil resources of the Philippine Islands, provided discriminatory policies of other nations against our nationals are not abandoned or satisfactorily modified.

I have given much thought during the past year to this problem of adding to our petroleum supply, and it has seemed to me but fair that we should first make every effort to increase the domestic supply through the methods that have been indicated--

(1) The saving of that which is now wasted, below ground and above ground.

(2) The more intensive use, through new machinery and devices, of the supply which we have.

(3) The development of oil fields on our withdrawn territory and in new areas such as the Philippines.

In addition, we must look abroad for a supplemental supply, and this may be secured through American enterprise if we do these things:

(1) Assure American capital that if it goes into a foreign country and secures the right to drill for oil on a legal and fair basis (all of which must be shown to the State Department) it will be protected against confiscation or discrimination. This should be a known, published policy.

(2) Require every American corporation producing oil in a foreign country to take out a Federal charter for such enterprise under which whatever oil it produces should be subject to a preferential right on the part of this Government to take all of its supply or a percentage thereof at any time on payment of the market price.

Conservation Through Engineering Part 2

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You're reading Conservation Through Engineering Part 2. This novel has been translated by Updating. Author: Franklin K. Lane already has 57 views.

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