by Anne-Marie Dorning
How far would you drive for a gallon of "terror-free" gas?
Consumers in Omaha, Neb., will be able to answer that question soon as the nation's first "terror-free" gas station is scheduled to open there Thursday.
The Terror-Free Oil Initiative, a group that says it is dedicated to encouraging Americans to buy gasoline that originates from countries that do not export or finance terrorism, is the driving force behind the idea.
"We felt like every time we filled at the pumps we were sending our money to a part of the world that wanted our destruction," said Joe Kaufman, Terror-Free Oil Initiative spokesman and chairman of the watchdog group Americans Against Hate.
"We felt like sending a message to gas companies that purchase crude oil from the Middle East that we are sick and tired of financing our own demise. We would like to avert the next 9/11," Kaufman said.
The Terror-Free Oil Initiative says that big oil companies like Exxon Mobil, Gulf and Shell finance terrorism by importing oil from the Middle East.
The "terror-free" gas station, on the other hand, will get its gas from a Salt Lake City-based oil company named Sinclair Oil Corp. Sinclair gets the bulk of its oil from sources in Canada and the United States.
How Do You Prove That Oil Is 'Terror-Free?'
Consumers across the country seem intrigued by the idea. Kaufman said his group had been "overwhelmed by the response."
Douglas Schmidt, of Ashland, Mass., runs a dry cleaning business and regularly buys gas for three company vehicles.
"I refuse to buy from Exxon Mobil right now," he said. "I buy from Hess. It's less expensive for one, but also it's a domestic company and that's important to me. I think it's a good idea."
Sean Fielding, another Ashland resident, was more skeptical as he filled up his Honda.
"I wouldn't believe it's terror-free. How can you prove that?" he said.
Good question. Sinclair company officials say that some of their oil comes from the New York Mercantile Exchange -- and that means it could be sourced from Middle Eastern countries. Kaufman concedes that because oil is a "fungible" commodity, it's "hard to confirm exactly where it comes from. To tell you the truth most companies cannot guarantee that."
Nevertheless, soon "terror-free" gas stations may be popping up all over the country.
"We have investors that have gotten together to purchase these stations," Kaufman said. "We're in negotiations to open them up all over the country."
A Small Part in the War on Terror
Kaufman declined to identify the Terror-Free Oil Initiative's investors or disclose the source of its funds.
In addition to super, premium and regular gas, consumers will be able to pick up counterterrorism pamphlets, books and bumper stickers next to the Slim Jims at the checkout counter.
"We're not looking to compete with gas stations," Kaufman said. "We understand that when you know the economics of the matter, we're not going to make a dent in the oil market. What we're trying to do is send a message and also tell the American public they can do a small part to fight terrorism."
Others argue that the real way to tackle the problem is to reduce America's dependence on oil altogether.
"As long as we're dependent on oil, we'll be dependent on Middle East oil," said David Willett, spokesman for the Sierra Club, the United States' oldest grass-roots environmental organization.
That's a point the Terror-Free Oil Initiative says it's more than happy to address.
"We would love to promote alternative sources of fuel," Kaufman said. "We know that in 10 to 20 years the vast majority or refineries are going to be in the Middle East so we want to see an end to oil dependence altogether."
For his part, President Bush voiced the theme of energy independence in last week's State of the Union address, but the White House would not comment on the specifics of a "terror-free" gas initiative.
For now, however, the people most concerned about this initiative would seem to be its local competition.
The manager at the QuikTrip on Q Street in Omaha declined to comment "on the advice of my bosses." But Al at Bucky's Express just down the road from the terror-free gas station speculated that customers might not be as concerned about the source of their gas as you might think.
"It's kind of up in the air," he said. "I don't know if they're going to play hardball or not. The bottom line is that customers just want to get in and out fast. They only care about two things: price and service."