I'M confused ... Friends and registered medical practitioners tell me not to worry — that it's just my normal default position. Befuddlement remains my daily lot.

And like so much other grief facing the planet today — plastics, synthetic fertilisers and what not — it's petroleum-based.

We're all slowly (some more slowly than others) getting the message that climate collapse and planetary Armageddon could not only be bad for business, but not great for personal health or our grandkids either.

That means pointing the bone at fossil fuel consumption.


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As a nation, we still pathetically try and project this specious clean, green claptrap, but sadly we're way behind the eight ball in sustainable alternatives for transport needs.
Far from being eco warriors, we're tragic addicts mainlining pure petro down the back alley.

Our present Government tells us big plans are afoot for crossing the sustainable divide.
In the meantime, we purse our lips over the petro bong, between sucks bleat about the skyrocketing price, and keep on shelling out for the fuel imports.

But hang on ... in a rare moment when he wasn't liquid-lunching, our late and only marginally lamented Great Helmsman, Piggy Muldoon, had a lightbulb moment.

With oil sheikhs cranking oil prices back in the 1970s, Piggy thought big and came up with Think Big, a bunch of installations meant to make us self-sufficient in fuel and synthetic fertilisers by using Taranaki natural gas.

When oil prices dropped, it was a different ball game, and the plants got mothballed. But one rose from the dead — it's still there and functioning at Motunui, just up the road from Waitara.

The Motunui plant makes this stuff called methanol, and one of methanol's many uses is as a pretty handy sort of fuel.

For vehicles, it's usually blended with regular type petrol, but it's not too shabby performance-wise because it's used in high-performance car racing.


Motunui currently produces about 2.5 million tonnes annually, which back-of-an-envelope calculations seem to show is the equivalent of about 40 per cent of our entire annual transport energy needs. Nearly half!

This is why I'm confused. Why are we — including our prime minister — bleating on about getting fleeced by Big Oil gas stations when we're capable of producing nearly half of our vehicle fuel needs ourselves?

More confusing, still, is that we no longer even own this one remaining plant — it's now owned by a Canadian outfit called Methanex.

They happily ship the methanol to lands afar while, in return, we use the same big ships to bring in equivalent fuel from lands equally afar. The carbon footprints are Sasquatch-sized.

It's a bit like us producing lots of milk powder which we then send abroad in big ships to be there mixed with water and sent back in the same big ships for our milk needs.

Frank Greenall
Frank Greenall

OK, current methanol/petrol blends only use up to about 15 per cent methanol, because methanol isn't quite as grunty as petrol. But how much power do you need for 50km/h zones where most driving is done?


What's to stop us using a 40 per cent blend, at wholesale price, giving us 40 per cent less reliance on having a favourable exchange rate to keep gas prices down, as well as transportation savings?

And given we're ultimately meant to be to losing the fossils, building up the electric fleet and so on, mightn't it be a good way to wean ourselves off altogether?

There are big questions here. Like, how come we've got nearly half our fuel needs in our own back yard, that's cost-competitive, but that we don't use ourselves?

Why were we so stupid as to sell Motunui in the first place? Even if now owned by Canucks, why don't we buy it back, and, if the lumberjacks aren't keen, just send in the Taranaki Mounted Rifles to flush them out?

Questions, questions ... Perhaps only Frank Gibson has the real oil on it all.