Should Military Costs Be Added to the True Price of Oil?

The article ``Energy Policy Proposals Take Shape,'' Feb. 1, contains figures that bear a closer look. According to the article, ``Georgetown University and the Rocky Mountain Institute figure the US was spending $46 billion a year on readiness to protect Mideast oil.... That puts the real cost of Gulf oil above $90 a barrel.'' But how was this figure of $46 billion arrived at? This is a huge amount of money, nearly a sixth of the total annual US military expenditure. Was a quarter of US forces in the Gulf before the conflict? And would we have maintained these forces regardless of the instability in the Gulf? If so, it is invalid to add this expense to the cost of Gulf oil.

Second, is it reasonable to add the military cost to the price of items exported from regions where those forces are deployed? Should we add the cost of forces deployed in England to the cost of a Laura Ashley print dress, or calculate the cost of our Pacific fleet into the price of a Hyundai? It seems that the whole question of what is worthwhile defending may be much larger that just the price of those exports coming out of the region.

Taylor Harper, College Park, Md.

The article fails to even mention one solution that could totally end our nation's dependence on Middle East oil: converting all motor vehicles to run on natural gas and requiring auto manufacturers to make cars that can run on natural gas. The technology is already available, and has been implemented on a fairly large scale in British Columbia. For what we are spending on Operation Desert Storm, we could convert every vehicle in America and end forever our dependence on oil.

C. Lynn Hermo, Lincoln City, Ore.

The war in the Gulf reveals with new clarity the terrible cost of our nation's dependence on Middle East oil. Against all notions of prudence, that dependence has grown since the late 1970s as an oil glut in the world market has lured the US away from conservation and the development of alternative energy sources.

OPEC accounts for 36.5 percent of current production, but it controls 75.6 percent of the world's oil resources. Rising imports will increase our dependence on oil from this strife-torn Middle East.

A wise US policy would improve energy conservation measures and replace oil with electricity generated from alternative energy sources. Except for transportation, electricity can substitute for oil in residential, commercial, and industrial applications, which together account for about 37 percent of our oil use.

To reduce the use of oil, we should be using more natural gas, clear coal technologies, advanced nuclear power, and, wherever appropriate and economical, renewable energy resources. That's not only insurance against future oil supply crises, it reduces the threat to our national security. And it offers the best hope for secure energy supplies and sustained economic growth for the long term.

C. T. Carley, Mississippi State, Miss., Petroleum Engineering, Mississippi State U.

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