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Gas out of grass?


Pam Fleischaker September 21st, 2006

I live with a man who wants to make gas out of grass.   I live with a man who talks to himself and anyone who will listen about farmland, feedstock and fuel tanks.   I live with a man who has spent mo...

I live with a man who wants to make gas out of grass.
 
I live with a man who talks to himself and anyone who will listen about farmland, feedstock and fuel tanks.
 
I live with a man who has spent most of his adult life trying to figure out where and how to get oil and natural gas out of the ground. Now he wants to use much of that ground to plant a bunch of grass and weedy-lookin' stuff to grow our state's economy, cut greenhouse emissions and help our nation become more secure.
 
I thought we were past some of my husband's long-abiding obsessions. There were years of marathons, years of long-distance cycling. Winter seasons of packing his skis, unwavering in his promise to get in those "20 days of skiing each year." Single-minded in his determination to ace each of these tests, each hurdle has been Him vs. Something Bigger than Him.
 
(At this point, I should reveal that "Him" is my husband, David Fleischaker, the governor's secretary of energy and an independent oil and gas producer of many years. Hereafter, aka David.)
 
It's been David vs. the bike track, David vs. the black diamond slopes, David vs. the rocks in the Washita wilderness.

Now it's David attacking, in his public servant role, the undeniable problem that we, as a state, nation and world, are in big trouble, having relied for too long and too heavily on a gradually diminishing supply of carbon fuels (oil and natural gas) to feed the fires of our manufacturing, transportation, defense, agriculture, automotive and virtually every other industry in America.
 
David (I refuse to call him Mr. Secretary) is not suggesting that the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma should be replaced. We will need, he believes, energy from every source possible, and petroleum production will always be a mainstay in Oklahoma's economy.
 
But now he is convinced that by planting certain hearty, drought-resistant, perennial prairie grasses all over the plains of Oklahoma, our farmers and ranchers can ultimately produce an essential, clean, renewable and alternative source of energy, complementing our diminishing supply of oil and gas.
 
Biofuels-as-energy-source already has been seeded in the minds and plans of some important players. The Noble Foundation in Ardmore is committed to developing these plant sources; both the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University have programs to research these crops; some major oil and gas companies have dedicated time and money in the pursuit of prairie grasses as alternative fuel sources; the federal government is handing out some money to explore it; and Oklahoma's farmers, ranchers, conservationists and environmentalists are finding ways to join together to make this idea work for them in Oklahoma.
 
"GROW: Oklahoma Governor's Conference on Biofuels" will bring together some of the most important thinkers and doers on biofuels Oct. 3-4 at the student union on the OU campus. The keynote speaker, James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, will hammer home the security dangers in continued reliance on foreign oil for our transportation needs. Speakers from private industry, the government and universities will talk about their commitment to developing biofuels. The details are at www.growOK.com.
 
Planting and refining switchgrass into fuel may not be as much fun as planning your next ski trip. But it's worth it for Oklahoma's future " and a better obsession for the man I live with than hang gliding, something new he muttered about in his sleep last night. - Pam Fleischaker
 
Fleischaker, former Oklahoma Gazette associate editor, has served as a commentary writer since 1987. She authored "American Woman: Lost and Found in Oklahoma."
 
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