‘Alky gas’ is in battle with big oil

'Alky gas' is in battle with big oil
This column is about corn.

Not the kind you eat or hear on Saturday Night Live, but the stuff they use to make ethanol. Actually I'm writing about the gas additive itself, and I'm using corn as an example of the wanna-be-rich guys.

Farmers deserve a good price for their product – but they've got to be smart or they'll kill the goose that's laying the golden egg for them now. Many of them are interrupting their time-proven rotation schemes to take advantage of the higher prices, and they've invested their nest-egg money in new ethanol plants to produce a product which is a little bit scary.

I don't blame them, of course, and I'd probably do the same thing if I were in their shoes. But with gas going at more than three bucks, there's bound to be a revolt soon.

Prices at the pump will go down; Congress – in its wisdom – will cut off the subsidy for ethanol; and "big oil" and its metropolitan complainers will win again.

We'll be left with egg on our faces; a corn surplus; and continue to drive gas-guzzling cars while we forget about alternate fuels.

(Gee, it's fun to write about something serious for a change.)

This is a worse case scenario, of course. If I had my way, I would hope that what I have written would turn out to be nothing but a bad dream.

Instead, the Iraqi War would end; the boys would come home; and gasoline for our autos would be somewhere around the seventeen cents a gallon which was what WNAX Fair Price stations were selling it for throughout the plains states in "the good old days."

You think ethanol is something new?

Deloss B. Gurney, a South Dakota entrepreneur and radio pioneer, was extremely riled by the high prices of petroleum products for hard-put farmers during the economic doldrums of the Great Depression era, and he decided to do something about it.

So he blended gas with alcohol made from surplus agricultural products like corn. The idea caught on – then. He was way ahead of his time, and to prove his point, he used a 10 percent alcohol mixture in his own car.

But then things got better. There was pressure put on by the major oil companies, and his "alky gas" became a thing of the past.

I lived through that period, and I'm afraid it could happen again. I know the circumstances are different, but that old feeling is hard to erase from my memory.

Rising production costs, dependence on foreign oil sources, pollution problems, more cars, more people, have taken their toll. You can't turn back the calendar no matter how hard you try. However, just the thought of 17 cent gas is a dream worth living.

D. B. Gurney would turn over in his grave if he knew his "alky gas" was popular once more – and he'd be worried for the farmers that "big oil" would win again!

© 2007 Robert F. Karolevitz

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