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Gas Past the Pump

The Role of Crude Oil in Everyday Life

A fact that more than likely you have never thought about: the same stuff that has you cursing at the pump is also used in the production and transport of the bottled water in your hand, the diaper on your baby's behind, and the food on your plate.

Crude reality, eh? Yup, crude oil - or petroleum - is used in more products that you can shake a smelly gas can at. In fact, 88 percent of all petroleum extracted is processed as fuel; the other 12 percent is converted into other materials such as plastic, according to Wikipedia. And judging from the absurd volume of bottled water at stores and in trash bins, bottled water is a huge portion of that 12 percent.

Yes, petroleum is involved in every stage of bottled water production: from the manufacture of plastic bottles, to the ink on the label, to the gas fueling the 18-wheeler truck that delivers bottled water, to the energy used to power the refrigerated display at 7-Eleven.

"Prime" examples
Complaints about prices at the pump easily trump talk of Iraq and Desperate Housewives at the water cooler, but your local gas station is just the tip of the iceberg.

A prime example? The prime rib on your dinner table. It's dizzying to think about it: The grain that's fed to the cow that produces that meat is where the story actually begins. From start to finish, it takes at least a gallon of oil to produce a pound of beef.

In fact, every year over 400 gallons of oil end up in each and every American's stomach. Not literally, of course, but consider the oil used in fertilizer and pesticide production, operation of machinery like tractors and grain elevators, the creation and maintenance of irrigation systems, and the production of livestock (ie. the oil used in air conditioning and ventilation systems in pens, and waste collection and treatment). According to the University of Michigan's Center for Sustainable Agriculture, for every calorie of energy we get from our food, over seven calories of fossil fuel is expended, which in itself is a lot to digest.

The last chapter of the story for your prime rib is its trip to the grocery store. Food products have more often than not journeyed far and wide to reach supermarket shelves, traveling over 1,500 miles on average -- perhaps from a farm in South America or a factory in China. Think about it: has the food on your plate seen more exotic locales than you have?

Oil's not just on the plate and in the tank, either. Everything from asphalt in roofing, to no-stick frying pans, to computers, to basketballs are not just made from petroleum, they're also made using the stuff.

Taking a "Bite" out of oil dependency
Few people know the reality of the oil issue better than Jen Boulden, co-founder of a popular daily eco-living email tip service, Ideal Bite. Since June 2005, when the company began sending out free tips offering every day people easy ways to "get their green on," Boulden and her business partner, Heather Stephenson, have seen subscription rates skyrocket as fast as the price of gas.

The problem affected Ideal Bite in an unexpected way when a national TV appearance was cancelled to make room for a story on increasing gas prices. At first, Boulden was upset. "It took a few minutes to see the irony of the situation. At Ideal Bite, we give people simple ways to increase energy efficiency and decrease oil dependency, and here was this segment on oil prices, booting us from the space," she laughed. "They didn't connect the dots."

Maybe a failure to "connect the dots" is precisely what's missing in the bigger picture. "One of the most common responses from our readers is, I never realized oil was implicated in so many products,'" explained Stephenson. "One person picking up local, organic cucumbers is not going to save the world," Boulden admitted. "But if you get enough people waking up to the interconnectedness of it all, that's when we'll start seeing some really positive change."

The Impact of Small Changes Done By Many
- If 10,000 people stopped buying bottled water for a year, the oil they'd save could fuel four cars over the same period.
- If 10,000 mothers chose to keep their baby in a non-disposable diaper over a disposable diaper just one time, the oil they'd save could fill three Olympic-sized swimming pools.
- If 10,000 people chose one locally-grown apple rather than an apple shipped across the country (for example -- you live in Iowa, but buy Washington State-grown apples), the oil they'd save could fill the gas tanks of 19 Hummers.

Just a little something to think about.

(Source: Ideal Bite)