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Student Life

Gasaholism: living and coping with a self-inflicted disease

Oil. We fight wars and pay billions of dollars per day to feed our addiction to the substance that many people know little about. We shuffle through life constantly filling our tanks, blindly feeding a machine that’s much larger than our cars. Oil producing countries and companies spend millions of dollars lobbying our leaders to keep the status quo. We can’t seem to find a replacement for it, but for some reason, we never ask why we need it.

This is why.

1. Energy Output

Gasoline from fossil fuel is an aliphatic hydrocarbon. According to’s Marshall Brain, this, in plain English, means that it is just a bunch of hydrogen and anywhere from 7 to 11 carbon atoms lined up in nice little chains – ironic, isn’t it?

When you burn gasoline in your engine, the process creates three things: carbon dioxide, water and a lot of heat energy– about 132 million joules per gallon. To put that in perspective, gasoline has about 31,000 food-calories stored in every gallon, or 1,937.5 calories per cup. That is around 46 Whoppers per gallon.

This is the first problem of our energy woes: Gasoline is very good at what it does.

Unfortunately, there is not another power source that can store and release enough energy and safely power our engines to rival fossil fuel.

“There really isn’t a better alternative,” USF professor of chemical engineering, Dr. Babu Joseph said. “We could produce a bio-fuel that would emit less carbon dioxide, but the price of bio-fuel would be around $6 a gallon.”

2. Infrastructure

Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, we have consumed almost all of the supply of fossil fuels that took Mother Nature anywhere from a hundred to 650 million years to create. If anyone had the time to wait for another 100 million years to get more of it, then we would not be in this mess.  Hence, the second problem of the energy crisis.

The transportation and power industries are based on processes that will run out of raw materials very soon.

“I would say we have about another 50 years of respectable production left in the world,” Joseph said.

From the first oil well in ancient China in 347 AD to the more than 3.7 million oil rigs in existence today, humans have been digging and extracting the resources at an exponential rate. With the increase in production and trading between countries, there has to be a vast number of refineries, transport hubs and individual gas stations to help mediate all of the production.

“We are used to it, the convenience of the process and the infrastructure we already have in place makes it very difficult to change,” Joseph said.

All together, the estimated amount that the United States alone spends on oil production is more than $25 billion a year.

3. Politics

Gas prices are at the forefront of our political discourse and the effects of any effort to control the situation have regrettably failed to mend the increased burden on the public. As you read this, the price of a gallon of gasoline is fluctuating for various reasons of supply and demand. Right now the average price of regular unleaded gas in Florida is $3.79 a gallon and more than likely will change by tomorrow.

Then there is the money spent lobbying.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, OPEC has spent $13.3 million since 2003 just on federal lobbying, with U.S. energy companies spending $88.4 million on lobbying and campaign contributions.

This may seem like a lot, but from the pockets of those in a muli-trillion-dollar industry, paying for lobbyists is just like paying to fill up your gas tank.


There is an energy crisis. Engineers are working to brighten the situation, but a change on such an astronomical level likely will never come to fruition if the public is not educated about it. While man and fossil fuel have had a strong run, the relationship is reaching its conclusion.

Nobody is certain what we will pick to replace our old black-gold friend, but when we do, it sure will have some pretty large shoes to fill.


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