Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Energy prices surged this week as Americans braced for a potential federal government shutdown.
Nearby crude oil prices approached $113 per barrel in New York Friday on reports that forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi attacked Libya's largest oil field in rebel-controlled territory.
In London, nearby Brent crude prices flirted with $125 per barrel due to Europe's exposure to Libyan oil exports which have declined to a trickle after nearly two months of fighting.
Oil prices also got a boost from a weaker U.S. dollar, which pushed the 17-nation Euro to a 15-month high against the greenback Friday.
And AAA reports regular unleaded gasoline is now selling at a national average of $3.74 per gallon... up nearly 90 cents from last year.
Renewable energy proponents say prices at the pump would be significantly higher were it not for domestically produced ethanol.
While critics blame the homegrown fuel for a host of evils including higher food prices, President Obama continues to feature ethanol prominently in his renewable energy policy.
On Friday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced new financial incentives for service stations installing blender pumps.
And at a Senate hearing last week, expert witnesses said agriculture can play an even larger role in weaning America from its addiction to oil.
Last week, Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Senator Debbie Stabenow, a democrat from Michigan, called several experts to testify on how agriculture might help reduce dependence on foreign oil.
Jeff Broin, CEO of POET, the world's largest ethanol producer, stressed the need for stable government policy.
Jeff Broin, POET: "…while, I think POET"S as good as any company in dealing with the farmers, we really understand how to deal with them, if they see the government wavering in their support of a government program they back away."
Ethanol research scientist Bruce Dale endorsed an option in which farmers would help increase ethanol feed stocks.
Bruce Dale, Michigan State University: "…we analyzed what would happen if we planted double crops on about 1/3 of our corn and soy land. We found that doing this one simple thing would allow us to produce about 100 billion gallons of ethanol, roughly the amount of gasoline we import, provide all the food and animal feed the land currently produces, improve soil quality and biodiversity …and reduce total US greenhouse gas emissions by 10%. A very pretty picture indeed, a "win-win-win" for national security, economic security and climate security."
Both Dale and Broin reiterated the need for flex- fuel cars and trucks which operate on a broad range of ethanol-gasoline mixtures.
And Dale also stressed the need to remain focused on the end goals of fuel security and self-sufficiency.
Bruce Dale, Michigan State University: "We use about 140 billion gallons of gasoline in this country every year and it is going to take decades to get to a very very large scale replacement of that. I wish I could be more optimistic but it's just going to take a while. We have to keep going down the path we are going down and not let ourselves be diverted because if we don't, we are going to have a worse situation than it is. We can do it with cellulosic and other biofuels but it's going to take decades."