The governor of Montana says he can turn the billions of tons of coal under his state into enough diesel fuel to greatly reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.
And there's an added benefit, says Gov. Brian Schweitzer: the United States will be sticking it to the "rats and crooks" who run the countries that sell oil to us.
Schweitzer speaks to 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl this Sunday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
"Why wouldn’t we create an economic engine that will take us into the next century, and let those sheiks and dictators and rats and crooks from all over the world boil in their own oil!" the democratic governor tells Stahl. Who does he mean? "Hugo Chavez. The Saudi royal family … the leaders in Iran. How about the countries that end with 'stan'? Nigeria? You tell me. Sheiks, rats, crooks, dictators, sure."
Schweitzer says most of the eastern part of Montana has coal under it, enough to create an amount of diesel fuel that could eventually wean the United States off foreign oil. Mining it in Montana, where it’s near the surface, is a much safer coal extraction process for workers.
The fuel from coal costs about a dollar per gallon to make, burns cleaner and doesn’t require burning the coal to create it — a big plus.
"The Fischer-Tropsch (method of creating) diesel is a superb fuel. Not only is cleaner than conventional diesel, but it also leads to improved engine performance," said Dr. Robert Williams, senior energy scientist at Princeton University.
There is one drawback, however, says Williams. "The process would entail carbon dioxide emissions that would be twice the green house emissions of other fuels." But Schweitzer has a plan for that, too. "This spent carbon dioxide, we have a home for it — right back into the earth, 5,000 feet deep." Schweitzer says he can sell this to the oil industry, which uses it to increase the amount of oil it can extract.
Some complain that the huge pits dug to mine the coal will become scars on the landscape, because the mining industry has not been kind, historically, to the state. But Schweitzer says a law will force companies to bury and replant the pits.
It’s not the first time people have contemplated alternate fuel sources, which many times fall out of favor as soon as oil prices drop. Again, Schweitzer has the answer. "If you believe the price of oil is going to drop back to $25 or $30 a barrel, you shouldn't walk away from this project. You should run," he tells Stahl. "But the overwhelming majority of the people who understand the oil market worldwide do not believe that we will spend much time below $30 a barrel. This is the right thing to do."