Over the weekend, I watched your special report We Were Warned: Out of Gas. I had previously seen the original version, “Out of Oil”, and wrote to CNN at that time pointing out a number of inaccuracies in the report. (It appears that the transcript still reflects the earlier version). Those inaccuracies remain in the newer version, so again I feel compelled to point them out. While I think the overall message of the report is essential, you give critics ammunition by not having all of your facts in order. So let’s look at some points.
First, we have Frank Sesno stating “Ethanol now accounts for nearly 40 percent of Brazil’s transportation fuel.” This is inaccurate. Diesel accounts for over 50% of transportation fuel. Gasoline provides 26%. Ethanol, by volume, comes in at 17%. But because ethanol has lower energy content, the actual energy contribution is around 10%.
Second, we have Sesno stating “Ethanol helped Brazil beat its oil addiction, and with sales and exports growing, its profitable, no more government money.” Considering that Brazil gets 90% of their energy from fossil fuels – including a large proportion from oil – I would hardly call that beating their oil addition. What they have done, as a result of aggressive domestic oil policies, is to use their own oil instead of depending on imported oil. This is possible because Brazil has an oil supply/demand picture far more favorable than does the United States. However, I would point out that the car that Sesno was driving around in has numerous parts that were derived from imported oil. So, Brazil still has an oil addition, just like the rest of the world.
Third, we have Sesno asking “So I’m thinking, why can’t I do this in America?” I can easily answer that question for him. The reason is that Brazil domestically produces over 3 barrels of oil per capita each year. This is almost enough to meet the demand, which is around 4 barrels per person. Other sources, including ethanol, are able to close that gap. The U.S., on the other hand, produces 11 barrels per person, but we use 27 barrels per person. The only way we can close that large gap is with imports. No way could we do it with ethanol, unless we drastically reduce that gap by reducing demand. We also need to consider the fact that Brazil makes ethanol out of sugarcane – far more efficient than doing so from corn – and that the population is quite a bit smaller than that of the U.S. The fact is that the U.S. couldn’t replicate what Brazil has done even by turning the entire corn crop into ethanol. The lesson we can take from Brazil is that we need to use a lot less oil in the U.S.
On the question of why distribution for E85 is limited, there seems to be this widespread misconception that this is preventing further penetration of ethanol into the market. In fact, the amount of ethanol we currently produce could not even provide a nationwide E10 blend. If we had E85 pumps at stations from coast to coast, most of them would simply have no product to sell.
Finally, on the topic of hydrogen, Sesno states “Pollution-free technology, but years, probably decades before these cars are king of the road.” This technology is far from pollution-free. Over 95% of all hydrogen is produced from natural gas. So while a hydrogen car may emit no pollution, there was a lot of pollution generated in the production of the hydrogen. The hope is that some day hydrogen will be economically produced via renewable sources, but the possibility is distant at best.
In conclusion, the report delivers a needed message. But the inaccuracies distract from the message. I hope that CNN will see fit to correct these errors in the future.
4 thoughts on “Letter to CNN on Inaccuracies”
“On the question of why distribution for E85 is limited, there seems to be this widespread misconception that this is preventing further penetration of ethanol into the market. In fact, the amount of ethanol we currently produce could not even provide a nationwide E10 blend. If we had E85 pumps at stations from coast to coast, most of them would simply have no product to sell.”
New U.S. House legislation proposed by Rep. John Dingell:
1. Increase renewable fuel standard from 7.5 billion gallons in 2012 to 35 billion by 2025.
2. Increase development of E85 facilities:
a. prohibit oil companies from blocking E85 sales by their franchised retailers.
b. provide more tax incentives to lower E85 prices and offset the reduced mileage from E85.
3. Increase production of E85 flex fuel vehicles — 45 percent of domestic and imported vehicles by 2012 and 85 percent by 2020.
4. Increase CAFE standards and efficiency of vehicles burning ethanol.
Source: FarmWeek, June 11, 2007
Hmmm…so much for the “free” market. Our representatives are getting set to ram E85 into the fuel stream whether or not there is actually enough supply or demand for the product. About the only people I see buying E85 around here are farmers fueling up their new GM flexfuel pickup trucks that get about 12 miles per gallon.
Essentially, what we are going to see are price controls on E85 to create demand for a product that just isn’t abundant enough to meet the demand. And then we are going to bail out the ethanol plants because the price of E85 is too low. Hmmm…seems like a high cost for helping the legislators think they are making us more secure from “foreign” oil. In a global economy, just what is foreign anyway?
If we wanted to condemn a large percentage of our population to abject poverty, the U.S. could reduce its dependence on foreign oil, just like Brazil!
Brazil has achieved a level of energy security – not independence. They still rely on imports of natural gas from Bolivia. Now that Bolivia has nationalized the gas production, Brazil is building liquefied natural gas import terminals.
Brazil drilled its way into energy security, with both national (Petrobras) and private investment in its oil and gas sector. It is a myth that ethanol was chiefly responsible for the turnaround – a myth that corn ethanol proponents like to tell.
Sometimes I wonder if our media outlets care about accuracy as they spew other peole’s propaganda.
Brazil has moved towards energy independence as the result of a very sucessful program of offshore drilling, with a modest assist from ethanol. They are a good example of the damage the offshore drilling ban does to the US.
i viewed the CNN presentation with frustration. thanks for the well articulated corrections.
CNN won’t tell the people the TRUTH and certainly politicians can’t or won’t do the same.
GOOD ENERGY policy and politics don’t mix. somewhat like the chemical bio processes you covered.
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