Fill Up Without Terror

The Terror-Free Oil Initiative has just opened the first "terror-free" gas station, in Omaha. Its mission—preventing the financing of anti-American violence by refusing to buy oil from the Middle East—makes sense for the U.S. Pro or con?

Pro: A Step in the Right Direction

A U.S. consumer boycott of oil from the Middle East is difficult, no question. An estimated 60% of the world’s proved reserves lie there, with at least 20% in Saudi Arabia alone. And the U.S. is not only the world’s No. 1 oil consumer but also the top oil importer. When you fill up your car’s fuel tank, the chances that the gasoline originates, at least in part, from the Middle East are pretty good.

A group called the Terror-Free Oil Initiative says it wants to reduce those chances to nil by refusing to buy oil that comes from any Middle Eastern country. For its first gas station in Omaha, the group buys fuel from Salt Lake City-based Sinclair Oil.

By also promoting other companies that don’t import oil from the Persian Gulf region, the organization wants to support the idea of "terror-free" gasoline. Essentially, that means gas from oil produced by countries that aren’t linked to terrorism. (Also boycotted: oil from countries such as Venezuela, whose government is opposed to the U.S.)

Behind this new mission is the belief that buying gas made from Middle Eastern oil sabotages the national interest. True, oil money isn’t publicly connected to the financing of terrorist acts, but such a connection is widely suspected, if not safely assumed.

Think of it this way: U.S. dollars go to buy oil from Middle Eastern suppliers, so it’s not a stretch of the imagination to assume some of that money—by way of lightly tracked charities—falls into the hands of supporters of, say, al Qaeda or the Iraq insurgency. After all, the latest Arab public opinion survey by the University of Maryland and Zogby International finds almost 80% have unfavorable attitudes toward the U.S.

The Terror-Free Oil Initiative does guarantee it works only with companies that refrain from importing Middle Eastern oil and says its oil comes from North America. And even if some of that oil comes from North American markets where international supplies are traded—hence, mixing Middle Eastern oil with that from other regions—do you need a guarantee of purity to back a business model that in the long run aims to stop our dependence on foreign oil?

Instead, since not one penny of your money would be intended for the terrorist finance pipeline, you can be satisfied that it’s the right thing to do.

Con: Pointless Agitation

Aside from giving Americans a sense—however false—that they’re striking a blow against terrorism, efforts to avoid gasoline made from Middle Eastern oil will backfire in every way.

If a ban grows widespread enough for oil producers to feel the pain, they could turn it around so it falls back on the U.S. "The Middle East countries could say they’re going to stop investing in any extra oil capacity because the U.S. doesn’t want to buy it, which would lead to a worldwide oil shortage," says A.F. Alhajji, an energy economist who teaches at Ohio Northern University. "Or they could flood the market with cheap oil instead. Then the production of ethanol and other alternatives would die."

A successful boycott could also increase unemployment in Arab countries, leaving more young men with the time and inclination to begin accepting the kind of anti-Western propaganda that produces terrorists.

And what about American-friendly regions like Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates? It makes no sense to alienate them with a ban on all Middle Eastern countries’ oil.

Even countries with governments hostile toward the U.S. don’t deserve negative generalizations. "There’s a huge disconnect between people of the Mideast and their governments," says Eric Davis, a political science professor and former director of the Center for Middle East Studies at Rutgers University. "The people may not like our politics, but many of them admire our way of life."

Of course, all the aforementioned reasoning assumes gas stations can succeed in buying only North American fuel. That may prove impossible anyway, as oil is a fungible resource—oils from different countries are regularly blended. If "terror-free" gas stations proliferate, they will eventually have to buy fuel from commodities markets, which offer no guarantee of their products’ provenance.

Finally, this or any boycott of foreign oil amounts to a short-sighted solution. "The Terror Free Oil Initiative’s energy would be better placed in developing hydrogen cars," says Davis. "The only by-product they produce is water, which is great."

That sounds more sensible than rankling citizens of the world by making a show of turning away their business.

Reader Comments

Jim

You have a choice. Buy a European turbo diesel car that will do 50 mpg average. They are fast, smooth, quiet, and good for 200,000+ miles service. If the Ford Focus in the U.S. is the same as ours here in the U.K., give your own carmakers and country a well-needed boost and buy American-made.

Warren

I believe it is a great idea as long as we further our efforts toward better fuel efficiency. If we really believe in capitalism and free markets, we should give Americans a choice to buy from the most-favored nations. I personally will not buy gas from Citgo, which is Venezuelan. On another note, I wonder if it is possible to create a store that has only products made by U.S. friendly nations or even made in the U.S.A. Remember that?

BJ

I think the idea of terror-Free oil is a good concept, but I think it's not something that will solve U.S. dependence on foreign oil. If only it were this simple.

Diesel? Jim, you do know diesel fuel is a product of oil refining, right? Bio-diesel might be part of the solution, but the oil companies are making so much money producing what we have there is little incentive to produce it.

Maybe we could revert to what the majority of Chinese used to do, ride bicycles. That would be funny to see, particularly in the summer heat.

Nick

You guys are all forgetting the most viable alternative to pumping up without supporting terrorism: colonialism. Just annex the oil fields and mount guards to exterminate all vermin that come near. This ensures oil is delivered and no vermins are financed.

m anderson

Con is the best approach for now.

Juan

If petroleum is indeed a commodity with limited supply, we should cap all our oil wells and import as much as we can from the Middle East. When oil prices go sky high, we will finally have the incentive to use our wealth and technology to build highly efficient cars, homes, factories, appliances, etc. Later, when the Middle East oil runs out, we just uncap our wells, produce enough to run our industry, and let the Arabs deal with their once again impoverished nations since they are not doing anything now to improve their societies.

Houssam

It shows clearly from all the above comments the hatred Westerners feel toward the Arabs. You always talk about American interests and forget the right of other people to live in peace. It is Americans who are interfering in Middle Eastern countries and trying to impose their view of the world on other people. How do you expect us, Arabs, not to feel hatred toward American politics when all we see is destruction and death caused by American wars? America and Europe would fall to their knees begging Arabs if Arab countries decide to stop importing oil. So, please, stop bragging so much. Arabs want peace and dignity. Americans still think of the world in terms of their sole interests. Another point: The suggestion in the article contradicts completely the notion of globalization, which is an American concept. Americans, please wake up, you are not living alone in this world.

Barry

Although noble in intention, this initiative may be more symbolic than effective. The positive aspect of such a campaign will be to remind all Americans about the nefarious relationship we maintain with Saudi Arabia, whose petro dollars have been the main "fuel" behind the dissemination of Islamic fascist ideology spreading around our world. However "friendly" the Saudis may be portrayed as by the mainstream media, we must never forget that the majority of the 9/11 killers came from Saudi Arabia.

Walter D.

Better ideas? Sure.
1. Walk as much of the commute as possible.
2. Take public transportation.
3. Get a bicycle. (Yes, I know how hard that is to do in Omaha in the winter -- I live there.)
4. Support a massive increase in federal taxes per gallon of gasoline.
We'd all be healthier, the air would be cleaner, and we'd intensely motivate conversion to renewable nontoxic fuels.

Bob

Forget about diesel and low maintenance. The U.S. economy depends on consumers' spending a lot of money; it works well to have some car breaking down quickly and needing expensive repairs.

Johny

The owner of the terror-free gas station in Omaha is not from Nebraska, not even an American. He is from Eastern Europe and lives in Washington D.C. Go Figure.

Suny

Congratulations, Houssam. I am neither American nor Arab, but I think the discussion should be: Why are so many people/countries anti-American? Instead of boycotting and bragging and nagging, [Americans should] use some common sense and start with the real problem. If Americans would finally realize there is a world outside their white picket fences, then maybe things could and would change.

Paulette

Sorry to diagree, Houssam, but the majority of Americans do not hate the Arabs or anyone else. We are a peace-loving nation with a few outspoken zealots. They get all the media hype and attention. The majority are God loving and want only love and peace for all people in the entire world. I hope you run across some of us. We live everywhere in every town in America.

Dave

I support the idea. It is foolish to continue to transfer billions of dollars of our wealth to governments that despise us and act against us. We should do everything possible to develop energy alternatives so that we can stop funding those who would do us so much harm.

greg

Back in the 1960s, a goal was set to land a man on the moon, and it was achieved. America now needs to set a firm goal to reduce oil imports to zero. Technology is the key. America needs to bring together the top scientists and form a team with the goal of rapidly replacing current energy sources. The shale oil fields that extend from Colorado through to Utah may hold the key while other alternatives are explored. Develop technology to extract oil from shale without the need to dig it up from the ground. The cost would most likely be $20 per barrel or less depending on the method used.

Sharma

I think the question as posed simply polarizes. The debate, in fact, may be completely misplaced. Oil is a fossil fuel that is nonrenewable, pollutes the environment, and contributes to global warming. Supply shortages will steadily develop over the next 50 years as oil fields deplete and emerging economies exponentially ramp up consumption. The world will be pushed inexorably toward more and more tense situations as national strategies of big consuming markets bump up against expressions of nationalism and identity in supplier countries.

These are simply facts no one disputes any longer. The way forward is to wean the world away from fossil fuels toward environment-friendly, renewable fuels that do not require dependence of any sort. For that to happen, we need lots of investment to finance research and to come up with breakthrough technologies. Unfortunately, the political establishment appears to lack what the scientific establishment requires to hasten outcomes and change consumer behavior. Thomas Friedman of the NYT is right, and therein lies the path to peace.

Sam Streubel

The Hess Corporation doesn't import any oil from the Middle East or Venezuela. Wouldn't that qualify all 1,350 Hess Express gas stations as terror-free?

Per

This feels like a trick by an organization that came up with the idea to get some fast cash. Anyone with some knowledge about business and how the oil market is looking today can see through this easily. This is not an idea that will last for long.

Rome

We need to come up with alternative fuels and then ban the importing of oil from Arab countries.

Larry

Houssam and Suny, go home. Thank you, Paulette.

Have we tried to expand on the use of solar and wind energy? This would help the environment and lessen our dependence on fossil fuels.

Bob

Larry, grow up! Houssam and Suny have valid points.

Sue

It is fundamentally unfair and short-sighted to assume all oil purchased in the Middle East is funding terrorism, or that we can make our world safer by refusing to trade with companies from an entire region.

sande

S&P 500 companies on an average generate 45% of their revenue outside the U.S. What will happen to the U.S. economy if consumers in other countries decide to boycott American companies for their own "valid" reasons. Grow up kids.

Adam

I think here's what it boils down to:

The only way to truly reduce our dependency on foreign oil is to make a change individually. While it's great to talk about "terror-free" gas stations, what are we doing ourselves to reduce our dependency on oil? Are we expecting everyone else to change first?

Many of the younger Americans don't care about where the oil comes from if there's a difference in price. How many people would rather spend 10 cents per gallon less and not know where the fuel comes from, than spend that extra 10 cents per gallon and know that at least a majority of the fuels come from America? What if it were 15 or 20 cents per gallon? I would guess many of the people who read this article and these comments would be willing to support American companies in this case, but the younger group of Americans (ages 16 to 24) wouldn't even know the difference. Too much blame is placed on government, and not enough on ourselves and what we've instilled (or failed to instill) in our children.

More personal responsibility and pride in our country would help us support American companies of all kinds.

As for the comments on why America hates everyone, there are forums for that topic. This is not that forum. I will say, however, that many people have felt for a very long time that America does not have the right to police the world the way it does. While I sometimes have to agree, America looks to protect its rapidly growing population by ensuring security from threats abroad. I'm not going to go any further, and I suggest that any further comments on the issue find a correct forum.

Eric

For the U.S to deliberately reduce its supply of oil by such an extreme amount would be foolish. Does anyone remember the OPEC cuts of the past?

Nick

Houssam and Suny are just regurgitating their own demagogue-inspired lunacies. First, which American wars caused Arabs to hate Americans? Oh, you mean the ones where we helped Afghanistan free itself from the Soviet yoke? Or the one where we had to fight because you think burning 3,000 Americans alive in tall buildings is "peaceful"? I don't pretend to speak for others like Larry does. Nor do I mandate others think the same way I do as Larry and Houssam types do. I speak for myself.

And if America is so bad, why are you here?

JPL

Houssam,
I am an American whose parents came here from a European country. I don't feel hatred toward Arabs, but it seems to be a Middle Eastern trait to blame someone else for their problems. If your government doesn't build schools and hospitals and provide jobs, change your government. And be certain of one thing: There is absolutely nothing America needs from the Middle East.

DJA

Valid points across the board, although there's something that nobody brought up: Stop driving SUVs.

This is the reason our average fuel mileage is far less than it potentially could be. Detroit has failed us, but they built these land yachts because there was demand. Suburban soccer moms who drive SUVs are the culprit here. Unless you pull a trailer (on a regular basis), have 5-plus kids, or live in isolated regions of the country in Alaska or Montana, there is no reason to own an SUV.

Wake up. We brought it on ourselves. I have never, nor shall I ever, own an SUV. I would probably be caned by all the people I've hassled about the issue in the past. I jokingly refer to SUV drivers as earth-haters, which they are. They are the reason the world hates our lifestyle, because we are so ridiculously wasteful. Pick up this book Confessions of an Economic Hitman. Enjoy!

Darellee

Duh! Already this gas station is playing politics with American minds. I can't fathom the idea that not buying Venezuela Citgo gas will make a statement against terrorism. What Terrorism? Just because the Bush administration disagrees with the freely elected Chavez government there, that is no reason to stop buying Citgo gas here. As a matter of fact, one could say the U.S. government heads a terrorist state inasmuch as it fomented and participated in the attempted overthrow of the Chavez regime. Greedy capitalists are just pissed because they can't get their grubby hands on Venezuela's oil. I think the hypocrites of the "terrorist free" gas station should be boycotted for playing politics with America just for profits.

Howard

I have to respond to the Middle East sympathizers who might be here. We turned the other cheek for many years to the acts of terrorists. We finally had enough and fought back and are now labeled as Arab haters. Get real, and learn the truth.

Howard

Darallee, I hope that someday you learn what it means to be an American. Supporting any government whose publicly stated desire is to destroy this country doesn't fit the definition. Opposing it does.

Ron

Way to go Nick! Could not have said it better myself. If we are so bad, then by all means, go home. I'm sure it's better there.

Amin

A lot of deluded people on this forum. Boycotting Middle East oil is like biting off your nose to spite your face. Why alienate your allies to spite a few countries? Most oil-producing Middle Eastern states are U.S. allies. You want to spite Iran by pissing off the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia? They're ruled by overwhelmingly pro-American regimes.

A lot of you guys don't even realize it, but your views are ignorant and pretty much racist. Please read some books guys; Fox News and CNN will not give you an accurate view of the world. Anyone who seriously believes that "they hate us for our freedom" is a fool.

What's next? Iraqis buying occupation-free goods?

FYI, I consider myself pro-American, but neoconservatives scare me. I really hope the next President is more of a statesman and less of a cowboy.

amin

Howard, open your eyes, man. How is invading a country on a false premise (WMD, my ass), wrecking all infrastructure, and killing hundreds of thousands of civilians turning the other cheek?

What a lot of people fail to understand is that Arabs believe they are being collectively punished for the actions of a few.

Islamists have been waging a civil war with Arab regimes for decades now. Just take a look at Algeria and Egypt in the 1990s. Iraq was intensely secular. What Arabs now see is that in order to punish Islamists, the U.S. is also punishing secular Arabs. That can be likened to carpet-bombing Montana for the Unabomber—it makes no sense

Doc

Oil producing companies might stop investing in extra oil capacity? Maybe they'll flood the market and kill off alternative sources. Let's face it, until the U.S. embraces alternative, renewable, sustainable sources of energy, we do not control our destiny. We are at the mercy of people who do not have our best interest at heart. One gas station that pumps domestic gas is not the answer. Ahmedinejad has more power over your next paycheck than Bush or Congress. That's the fact, until we make a major change.

Robert

Oh come on, do you all really believe this? Oil companies are taking advantage of us all, not just in the U.S. but in other countries, too. Until the people say: "Quit ripping us off for something that has not changed over the years," we will be gouged until we can't afford anything. Gasoline all over the world should have never gotten past a $1.

Aaron S.

Terror-free gasoline stations would be no more than a futile gesture, because oil is a fungible commodity. It would be far more effective to raise federal gasoline tax steadily (say, 1 cent a month for the next 10 years or more) and return all of the additional revenue to the American people by reducing other (nonenergy) taxes--reducing payroll tax or state sales taxes (through federal transfers to states equal to the incremental federal gasoline tax revenue collected in each state). Americans would increasingly respond to this economically rational incentive to buy much more fuel-efficient cars, to walk or bike more, to drive somewhat less, etc., each according to his or her own preference. Eventually, the low but by no means nil elasticity of demand for gasoline would reduce OPEC's and other oil exporters' ability to exact quasi taxation without representation on American consumers, and this would be likely to limit some oil exporters' expenditure on terrorism, WMD, etc. This proposal would also substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions in an economically rational manner. Other oil distillates, such as jet fuel, should also be subject to gradually increasing taxation revenue neutral, as explained above.

Bert

Warning to Arab Nations: If you cut off oil supply to the U.S., it will probably have to look for WMD in your country.

You cannot call anyone in the Middle East a terrorist if you will not allow even one American to be painted as a piece of garbage and waste of space human who definitely has an Arabian superior.

Terror-Free Oil

Sue wrote: "It is fundamentally unfair and short-sighted to assume all oil purchased in the Middle East is funding terrorism."

Since most of counter-terrorism experts agree that the majority of terrorism financing comes from oil revenues, we suggest you do some research before providing your scholarly opinion.

shadow

I can say from reading all the posts here that most have very good points. My question to someone here is, where then do we get all the oil we need? We don't have enough--that's for certain.

My answer might be to see if we can't make a North American oil group with Canada. Supposedly in the oil sands up there--along with what we could get off shore if we really tried harder--might be something that would work long term.

Certainly it's safer than dealing with some of the unfriendly oil-rich producers that could cut us off at any time for any reason and collapse our economy. Anyone have a comment on that?

I didn't say cut them off 100%. Just make it a goal to, say, cut down on importing oil from the Middle East by 50%. That by itself would make a big difference.

We could use a little more solar and nuclear power to help out also, and in my opinion, carmakers could make cars in most sizes get at least 20% more per gallon than now. Imagine what all this together could do toward becoming non-dependent on Middle Eastern oil.

Mike

Since we have global warming, which is supposed to create flooding, why not use saltwater, the most abundant resource on the planet? Did you all see the article? A man discovered that he could burn saltwater at a high temperature. The problem is, he offered to sell his findings to finance his "cure for cancer" research. Another man discovered how to turn H20 into HHO, which is hydrogen and also an amazing fuel. They're out there but kept quiet.

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