Yes He Could

Feasible? Yes. Realistic? No.

Do I believe the U.S. can be energy independent? Yes, I believe that with certain draconian measures, the U.S. could achieve energy independence within 10 years. But emphasis must be placed on ‘draconian.’ So yes, I think Barack Obama could make good on his campaign promises and make the United States energy independent. However, it would almost certainly make him a one-term president because the population would rebel at the cost of energy independence.

I covered the expected contribution of renewables to the U.S. electricity picture in The Nuclear Comeback. Conclusion? They better start building more nuclear plants if the administration wants to move away from coal. So let’s have a look at the oil picture and get our heads around just what energy independence might look like.

We Use a Lot of Oil

Here are some numbers, courtesy of the Energy Information Administration’s database. In 2008, the United States consumed 19.4 million barrels of oil per day (bpd) and produced 6.7 million bpd (including LNG). We imported 12.9 million bpd. (You may notice that there is a 0.2 million bpd discrepancy, which is partially caused by changes in inventory levels). So, in order to bring the United States to a state of energy independence, we have to somehow eliminate those imports through some combination of decreased demand and/or increased supply.

One way the U.S. could be energy independent is if we reduced our consumption by 65% to 6.7 million bpd. This would take the 23.6 barrels consumed in 2008 by the average person in the U.S. down to 8.3 barrels. That would put U.S. per capita consumption of oil between that of Croatia and Mexico. For reference, here is a sampling of per capita consumption of oil from various countries around the world (extracted from Energy Statistics – Oil – Consumption (per capita) (most recent) by country).

Country Per Capita Oil Usage (bbl/yr)
Saudi Arabia 30.6
Canada 25.9
USA* 23.6
Australia 17.3
Japan 14.3
Germany 10.9
UK 10.6
Croatia 8.4
Mexico 7.1
Brazil 4.6
Egypt 3.2
Afghanistan 0.06
Chad 0.05

Table 1. Oil Per Capita Energy Usage for Selected Countries

* Oil usage for the US is from 2008; usage for all other countries is from 2007.

So the US could still use almost twice the per capita consumption of Brazil and achieve energy independence (because we produce a lot more oil per capita than Brazil). But how likely are we going to be to reduce our consumption levels down to less than that of Germany or the UK? It’s hard to imagine unless oil becomes very, very expensive. But that’s an option. President Obama could make oil very expensive and potentially pull usage down toward U.S. production levels. Of course in the process, the recession would probably deepen and Obama would lose the election in 2012. More on that later.

Can Renewables Fill the Gap?

But that’s not the plan. The plan primarily involves filling the supply gap, with renewables as the most important part (see quotes below) of that plan. So what might renewables contribute? There are lots of small contributions from areas like corn ethanol and soy-based biodiesel. But let’s put those in perspective. In 2008, the US produced a record amount of ethanol: 9 billion gallons. How much does that amount to, given our need to close a gap of 12.9 million bpd of imported oil in 2008? Converted into barrels per day, 9 billion gallons per year amounts to 0.59 million barrels per day on a gross basis, but because of the lower BTUs it would only displace 0.32 million bpd. (The BTUs per gallon for a barrel of oil are higher than for gasoline; relative to oil, ethanol has 54% of the BTUs per gallon). For the purposes of this exercise, we will pretend for a moment that there aren’t big quantities of fossil fuels that enabled that 9 billion gallons.

Thus, last year’s record ethanol production is a drop in the bucket relative to the oil we use. How much ethanol – as a reference point – would we need to close that gap? Given that last year’s ethanol production in theory already should have displaced some level of oil, there is a gap of 12.9 million bpd to close with incremental ethanol. How about an additional 364 billion gallons, or more than 40 times last year’s record number? For reference, global ethanol production in 2008 is estimated to be 17.3 billion gallons.

Campaign Promises Revisited

I don’t know about you, but I don’t see any combination of renewables being able to close a gap like that. Remember what Obama said during the campaign?

We have to have energy independence, so I’ve put forward a plan to make sure that, in 10 years’ time, we have freed ourselves from dependence on Middle Eastern oil by increasing production at home, but most importantly by starting to invest in alternative energy, solar, wind, biodiesel, making sure that we’re developing the fuel-efficient cars of the future right here in the United States, in Ohio and Michigan, instead of Japan and South Korea.

Note what is “most important” in the drive for energy independence. To me, this is an example of someone who either doesn’t understand the scale of the issue, or someone who is just trying to score debate points.

Later on he elaborated:

The second point I want to make is — is the issue of energy. Russia is in part resurgent and Putin is feeling powerful because of petro-dollars, as Senator McCain mentioned. That means that we, as one of the biggest consumers of oil — 25 percent of the world’s oil — have to have an energy strategy not just to deal with Russia, but to deal with many of the rogue states we’ve talked about, Iran, Venezuela.

And that means, yes, increasing domestic production and off-shore drilling, but we only have 3 percent of the world’s oil supplies and we use 25 percent of the world’s oil. So we can’t simply drill our way out of the problem.

What we’re going to have to do is to approach it through alternative energy, like solar, and wind, and biodiesel, and, yes, nuclear energy, clean-coal technology. And, you know, I’ve got a plan for us to make a significant investment over the next 10 years to do that.

And I have to say, Senator McCain and I, I think agree on the importance of energy, but Senator McCain mentioned earlier the importance of looking at a record. Over 26 years, Senator McCain voted 23 times against alternative energy, like solar, and wind, and biodiesel.

And so we — we — we’ve got to walk the walk and not just talk the talk when it comes to energy independence, because this is probably going to be just as vital for our economy and the pain that people are feeling at the pump — and, you know, winter’s coming and home heating oil — as it is our national security and the issue of climate change that’s so important.

How About Drilling?

Those are certainly reasonable comments, but they won’t make us energy independent. Also, because the talk of drilling from Obama started just as McCain was gaining some traction with the ‘drill here, drill now’ campaign, many people felt like it was a campaign promise that wasn’t destined to be carried out in an Obama administration. However, it looks like Obama has looked at the issue closely enough to recognize that new production is going to have to be part of any energy independence plan that has any chance of success any time soon:

Obama to Remake Drilling Policies

Wesley Warren, director of programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “They have made a commitment to really be science-based, to look at all the facts before they make a decision. It is a new way of doing business.” The early signals from Obama and his cabinet agencies speak to that new way. Shortly after taking office, the president reversed orders issued in the closing days of the Bush administration that would have dramatically expanded offshore drilling.

Still, the Interior Department went ahead this week with a long-planned auction of drilling tracts in the Gulf of Mexico.

And Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has indicated in recent days that he’s looking for ways to expand offshore drilling in an environmentally conscious way. He has even said he’s open to allowing limited drilling at Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge if it can be done from outside the refuge. “Oil and natural gas are, and will remain for many years to come, a cornerstone of our nation’s energy base,” Salazar told the American Petroleum Institute Thursday. “This is not, as some have suggested, a war on the oil and gas industry.”

There are still plenty of skeptics:

[Charles] Drevna of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association said he’s concerned about Obama’s “anti-oil-refining-industry rhetoric,” the suggestion that big energy companies should face higher taxes as the nation shifts toward renewable sources.

“It is this talk about energy independence; it’s not achievable, and it probably is not desirable,” Drevna said. “Energy independence means energy isolation, and we simply cannot afford it if we expect the economy to grow.”

One could expect that we could open up offshore areas of the U.S. and potentially get some incremental production, but the administration certainly doesn’t plan to make it easy. They have more or less declared open season on the oil industry, and are pursuing policies that are certain to discourage U.S. oil production. Geoff Styles recently discussed the folly of punishing our own oil industry in The Wrong Enemy. Excerpts from his article:

I would paraphrase the Obama energy strategy as seeking to reduce US oil imports and greenhouse gas emissions by strongly promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency. Unfortunately, the administration’s actions risk putting the domestic oil and gas industry on the wrong side of the divide that creates.

Rather, we need to look to our self-interest, here. When an oil company drills in the US, its production backs out imports directly, barrel for barrel. It pays US salaries–attractive ones–and it pays hefty taxes: income taxes at a 40% effective rate, along with billions of dollars in royalties, rents and bonus bids collected by the government. When a US oil company drills elsewhere, much of the benefit is captured by foreign governments, and when the oil we import comes from a non-US supplier, our trade deficit swells and the federal government only gets to tax the profits on refining & marketing, which are often pretty thin.

Styles argues that the policies that are being pursued will almost certainly result in an increase in U.S. oil imports. If U.S. production is discouraged – and renewables aren’t up to the task of filling the gap – then guess what? Our imports will increase, and we will increase our energy dependence.

A How To Guide to Energy Independence

So how would I go about making the U.S. energy independent? As I said, it would require draconian measures. First, I would try to increase supply by incentivizing all forms of energy production. As I argued in an essay last year, I would use the proceeds of expanded offshore drilling to fund higher efficiency vehicles, electric transport, mass transit, and biofuels that aren’t highly dependent upon fossil fuels for their production. This should start to pull supply and demand closer together. But even my most optimistic scenario would still require substantial oil imports.

To close the rest of that gap requires the draconian piece. There are two choices. One is to ration fuel. Imagine that you had to get by on half the fossil fuel you normally use. Could you? I think most people – if they really dug down – could do it. It wouldn’t be easy, and we would certainly lose a lot of convenience. Someone complained to me last year that when gasoline got up to $4 a gallon, it was a real inconvenience for the family because they had to start consolidating trips. Boo-hoo. Nobody said it was a piece of cake; if it was we would already be energy independent.

The other option is to ration by price. The problem with this one is that there really isn’t a good feel for what kind of prices it might take to bring consumption in line with production. It could take $20/gal gasoline. Could we afford that? I would argue that we could, if the incremental gasoline tax was offset by income tax cuts. I have covered what I think would be a politically viable scheme for increasing carbon taxes in The Case for Higher Gas Taxes. But again, the problem with this option is that we don’t have a good model for how high the price would need to go before destroying enough demand.

But in my opinion, this is what it would take to become energy independent within the next decade. There is a reason that countries in Europe – with their mass transit and fuel efficient vehicles – still can’t achieve energy independence. It’s hard. It will always be difficult to achieve in a Democracy, where you have to make the voters happy lest you be voted out of office. Voters who have to make big sacrifices don’t look favorably on political leaders who ask for it.

Therein lies the problem for Obama. Yes, he could. But not with the policies he is pursuing. So, at the end of the day, “No, He Won’t.”

42 thoughts on “Yes He Could”

  1. Easily the most impressive post you’ve ever done. Rationing is the only way to achieve energy independence. And by the time we got to 100% energy independence via rationing…would the misery be worth it? What’s the point, really?

  2. “if the administration wants to move away from coal”

    Coal is produced domestically and we even export some. The electric grid is essentially energy independent except for a small amount of imported LNG.

    Energy independence is essentially an emotional issue. Like AGW, there is no real problem. Further more solving either is not hard. I am not sure how draconian it would be either. It might even be fun. Put me in charge of the energy SS. If Abe Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin could get by on renewable energy, so can the current president, speaker of the house, and senate majority leader. Al Gore would be rationed to half the energy use of my family. He would be free to walk sown to the senior center to give lectures.

    Energy is about freedom. I am free to work where I want and live where I want. Socialist do not produce energy and therefore will be the first to have it taken away.

  3. The EU (arguably the world's biggest economy) is also by far the world's largest fossil fuel importer. Yet we hear nothing but admiration from Obaminoids for Europe.

    In fact, of the world's 6 largest economies (EU, US, Japan, China, India, Russia), only Russia is energy independent — and Russia is not self-sufficient in food. Hell, the US is not even self-sufficient in automobiles any more.

    A leader would have pointed all of this out. A leader would have set a more reasonable goal — let's tear down the self-imposed barriers to expanded domestic energy supply: let's remove the excessive regulations that hold back nuclear power, and let's acknowledge that Anthropogenic Global Warming is an unscientific scam (opening the path to better use of domestic coal). Let's cut taxes & regulation to encourage more research & development on competitive alternative energies.

    The unknown with Obama is whether he is simply an incompetent, out of his depth, or whether he is pursuing a hidden agenda. Either way, by the time Obama leaves the stage, the world is going to have a lot bigger problems than the dependence of most major economies on fossil fuel imports.

  4. Another excellent post. There are a couple of things to consider.

    The US is nearly energy independent for power generation and home heating. We import some natural gas from Canada, and a little LNG from Trinidad and elsewhere. These imports are offset by coal and petroleum coke exports, pipeline gas to Mexico and the LNG exports from Alaska to Japan.

    Where the US is short is in liquid transportation fuel. Here also I would consider the more achieveable goal of North American energy independence by including Canada and Mexico into the fold. If you consider Canada’s 2 million barrels and Mexico’s 1.1 million barrels per day then we are a lot closer to achieving some measure of independence from what Benny likes to call “thug states”.

    Achieving this sort of regional independence looks quite doable. All that is required is for Americans to stop using large trucks and SUVs as commuter vehicles in favor of more fuel efficient sedans and compact vehicles. While at the same time implementing existing technologies for boosting fuel efficiencies on sedans:

    + CVT or 6-speed transmissions
    + Electric assist power steering
    + Mild-hybrid all electric accessories w/Regenerative braking
    + Reducing vehicle weight
    + Reducing horsepower
    + Low rolling resistance tires
    + Variable valve timing
    + Direct injection
    + Engine turbocharging
    + Cylinder idling
    + Reducing drag

    Or a combination of technologies for increasing mileage. We don’t need to go for full hybrids.

  5. PLUG IN HYBRIDS AND ENERGY INDEPENDENCE

    James Woolsley, former CIA head claims widespread adoption of plug-in hybrids (100 mpg) would deliver us from foreign oil.

    Plug in hybrids seem a more palpable solution than “draconian gas rationing”.

    No one suffers too much under Woolsey’s scenario. The electric car advocates are happy because they get to have s battery in the car.
    The internal combustion engine crowd gets to keep their beloved, smog producing engine in the car.

    The elctric utilities are happy because people are charging their batteries off the grid every night and they are making money hand over fist.

    The oil companies are happy because the ICE in the car burns petroleum based products.

    The bio-fuels people even get to chip in on the internal combustion part of the equation, so they are also happy.

    The environmentalists are thrilled because we are not destroying Mother Earth quite as fast as before.

    Everybody stays happy.

    What’s not to like ?

  6. What’s not to like?

    That the electricity is coming mostly from coal.

    Green groups with considerable pull in the Democratic party have opposition to nuclear power as dogma. A widespread move to EVs would require that we not only reduce the large current level of CO2 emissions from power production, but also produce enough emission-free power to run all those EVs. I don’t think it’s possible in 10 years without nuclear power.

  7. Nice piece, as always. Couple of comments:

    “….biofuels that aren’t highly dependent upon fossil fuels for their production…”

    Corn ethanol refineries that use coal (a fossil fuel) for all processing would not consume much natural gas or petroleum. Soybean biodiesel would not address cars because only a few percent of cars are diesel. Also, it takes roughly three times more acreage to make soy biodiesel than corn ethanol. So now we have acreage and GHG entering into the analysis.

    This is where discussions start to get fuzzy because someone always brings up some biofuel of the future that will fix everything. To be useful the discussion needs to be bounded by fuels that exist in commercial quantities today, the future being notoriously difficult to predict. Also, if the discussion is bounded only by monetary costs, ignoring environmental costs, like GHG, then it is little more than an angles on the head of a pin counting exercise.

    “….This should start to pull supply and demand closer together. But even my most optimistic scenario would still require substantial oil imports….”

    It has recently been estimated that until the EU tariff was implemented that up to 80% of our biodiesel was being exported. Politicians are not going to save us.

    From this article:

    “….It seems kind of silly for us to be sending our fuel to Europe and then importing crude from Saudi Arabia,….there is no market-based reason for consumers to buy biodiesel….”

    “…To close the rest of that gap requires the draconian piece. There are two choices. One is to ration fuel. Imagine that you had to get by on half the fossil fuel you normally use. Could you? I think most people – if they really dug down – could do it….”

    All discussion on this topic are with blinders on while sitting inside a dark box. A few billion dollars worth of high quality TV adds and billboards could get the unthinking masses to start competing for the status associated with energy efficiency and the market would scramble to meet the demand for products that would give individuals an edge in the competition.

    Our family cut oil use for personal transport 80% without loss of stature, without moving any fewer miles, without loss of time, and saved money doing it by swapping a 24 mpg status symbol Outback for the new and improved status symbol, a 48 mpg Prius and using a hybrid electric bike with trailer in place of my Cherokee for single occupant around town errands. How hard would it be to expand the electric bike idea with electrically heated apparel and dedicated safe bike lanes?

    It was all ridiculously easy. All we needed was the motivation to be greener than our peers (all the while telling ourselves it was to save the planet and status seeking is for shallow egotists and all other social primate groups other than our own). Change what is a status symbol. Most of our waking hours are spent stroking our egos (eliciting endorphin dumps via status competition). Think about what we spend most of our time doing and most of our money on.

    Biodiversivist

  8. Poet ethanol, Chancellors, is now getting 90% of their process energy from landfill gas, and wood waste. Corn Plus, in Winnebago, Mn, is gassifying it’s syrup for about 50%. Others are moving toward corn cobs for energy.

    These types of solutions are pretty replicable. The EU, and states like California, are pushing the corn ethanol plants in this direction through their “land-use” regulations. Not entirely a bad thing.

    We are NOT, of course, going to become “energy Independent” as regards liquid fuels in Ten years. The question is, “how much progress will we make?”

    To answer that question you would have to know the price of oil over the next decade. At this moment oil is Extremely Volatile. This leads me to believe that we, really, don’t know. Everybody has an opinion, and you know what they say about “opinions.”

    I, personally, think we’ll utilize hybrids, biofuels, etc to the extent we need to to hold gasoline prices under $4.00, or thereabouts. But, that’s just MY “opinion.”

  9. Russ – I like your bike. Have you posted the plans or details other than the YouTube video somewhere?

    I ride my bike a lot for short errands. Like you when I factor in traffic and stop lights I can get around much faster by bike. I rode to the pub yesterday!

  10. ==Conclusion? They better start building more nuclear plants if the administration wants to move away from coal==

    Wasn’t a terribly coherent argument though.

    A) You assuming linear growth
    B) You talking about growth through years where PTC’s and ITC’s are in constant flux
    C) You fail to make the argument why Nuclear, something which basically doesn’t exist outside of purely government programs, is supposed to survive by itself in the market.

    And that if the argument is that “Government will provide all the financing”, then why wouldn’t that same argument apply to renewables?

  11. Robert, there is a non-trivial difference between “energy independence” and “dependence on Mid-Eastern oil”

  12. “let’s remove the excessive regulations that hold back nuclear power”

    The problem is not exclusive to nuclear power and there is not anything too excessive about the regulations.

    The problem is those who subvert the democratic process by using the court system or political power. If a project is on the left coast, an extra trip through the the 9th circus boost the legal fees.

    In Kansas, the governor nixed a coal plant that had gone through the regulatory process. In Florida the PUC nixed coal plants altogether but it was after public debate. After more debate, the Florida PUC has allowed utilities to include development coast in the rate base.

  13. Robert:

    First, Obama’s plan is to “free ourselves from dependence on Middle Eastern oil”. Big difference. Even his “official” policy says “Eliminate Our Current Imports from the Middle East and Venezuela within 10 Years.” Still daunting, but only two of our five major foreign oil suppliers.

    Now let’s see if I understand the differences between your plan and Obama’s (http://www.whitehouse.gov/agenda/energy_and_environment/):

    Your plan:
    “increase supply by incentivizing all forms of energy production”
    the President’s plan:
    “Promote the Responsible Domestic Production of Oil and Natural Gas”; “Develop and Deploy Clean Coal Technology”; “Prioritize the Construction of the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline”; “Ensure 10 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025.”

    Your plan:
    fund higher efficiency vehicles, electric transport, mass transit, and biofuels
    the President’s plan:
    “Increase Fuel Economy Standards”; “Get 1 Million Plug-In Hybrid Cars on the Road by 2015”; “Create a New $7,000 Tax Credit for Purchasing Advanced Vehicles”; “Investments in public transportation…that moves us towards our long term goals of energy security”; “$8.4 billion in the Recovery Act’s mass transit investment section…”;

    Your plan:
    Reduce consumption by rationing fuel or price increases through tax policy “what I think would be a politically viable scheme for increasing carbon taxes”
    the President’s plan:
    Reduce consumption by efficiency improvements and price increases through cap-and-trade:
    “Deploy the Cheapest, Cleanest, Fastest Energy Source – Energy Efficiency”
    “Weatherize One Million Homes Annually”
    “Implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program”

    Overall, I guess you’ve both thought it through and come up with pretty much the same ideas. So I can only conclude that your criticism is related more to politics than policy 🙂

  14. In short, energy independence means using a heckuva lot less energy. I’m glad some people can be honest about this.

    After taking up residence in Japan, I came to see that a major impediment to reducing energy consumption in the US is the practice of central heating. Indeed, American homes are built under the assumption that they will be centrally heated (and air conditioned). This is a big, big mistake, as what happens in the near future when most people will no longer be able to afford the heating bill?

    To keep this short, I’m posting a link to my modest proposal.
    http://ricefarmer.blogspot.com/2008/04/space-heating-proposal.html

  15. Wasn’t a terribly coherent argument though.

    The key piece of the electricity argument is on scale. Even the most optimistic growth assumptions out there don’t make much of a dent in our coal consumption. Only nuclear can scale like that. So it’s coal, nuclear, or a lot less electricity.

    By all means I favor pushing solar, wind, geothermal, etc. just as hard as we can. I just appreciate that at the scale we are talking about, they won’t realistically displace much coal.

    RR

  16. Overall, I guess you’ve both thought it through and come up with pretty much the same ideas. So I can only conclude that your criticism is related more to politics than policy 🙂

    That would be a horribly flawed conclusion. First, I am greatly hoping for an Obama success. I don’t wish him to fail; by contrast I want him to right the ship. But I think his energy policy is hopelessly naïve.

    Do our ideas share elements? Of course. Some ideas are no-brainers as far as I am concerned. Rebates for fuel efficiency? Incentivizing mass transit? No-brainers. But there are deep, fundamental differences.

    First, any policy that promotes energy independence, but proceeds to pass policies hostile to our own oil and gas companies is working at cross-purposes. If we are to cut our oil imports, we need our producers to produce more, not less. Despite the talk of ‘responsible drilling’, the policies that are being pushed will disincentivize U.S. oil production. I suspect this is the intent because of a faith that biofuels can save us. Which brings me to the 2nd fundamental disagreement.

    The blind faith in biofuels – especially cellulosic ethanol – is causing the administration to believe they don’t really need oil companies. Obama is drinking the Kool-Aid, but the state of cellulosic ethanol technology is far from being commercialized – which is the same situation it has been in for 40 years. No combination of biofuels, in my opinion, can fill the import gap and I don’t expect any combination of incentives is going to lead to the technological breakthroughs. An example I use sometimes is that there is a trillion dollars worth of gold in the oceans. That incentive has not led to a commercial process for getting it out.

    So that leads to major disagreement number 3. I believe the biggest piece of any oil independence pursuit has to be greatly rolling back consumption. This is the piece that is politically very dicey, but some way or another there needs to be major inroads here. Obama said that his main thrust is going to be “most importantly by starting to invest in alternative energy, solar, wind, biodiesel, making sure that we’re developing the fuel-efficient cars of the future.” If that is truly what he considers most important, then I say he doesn’t understand the scale of the problem. Those things need to be a component, but most important is figuring out a way to get people to use a lot less. Not just ‘less’, ‘a lot less.’

    Cap-and-trade will likely make fossil fuels much more expensive. But what I see is a situation setting up where the administration points fingers at the oil companies for raising prices. When they have to comply, prices will go higher. How much higher? Who really knows? This will be a grand experiment with the outcome very much in question. While it may be more politically expedient, I prefer a direct tax with an income tax offset. My prediction is that cap and trade will end up with the oil companies being further vilified due to rising prices, which will further prompt politicians to slap punitive measures, which will move us further away from energy independence.

    I hope that clarifies why my position if quite different than Obama’s. Overlapping elements do not make for similar proposals in this case. There are deep, fundamental differences.

    Now, one point I want to cover from your first paragraph:

    First, Obama’s plan is to “free ourselves from dependence on Middle Eastern oil”. Big difference. Even his “official” policy says “Eliminate Our Current Imports from the Middle East and Venezuela within 10 Years.” Still daunting, but only two of our five major foreign oil suppliers.

    First thing, you are correct. However, this was a position change either late in the campaign, or after the campaign. Or perhaps he carelessly talked about energy independence at times when he really meant only from Middle Eastern and Venezuelan oil. But, consider this. Production in Mexico is in free-fall, and their exports to the U.S. will probably continue to drop. That gap has to be made up somewhere. So there’s Canada. Which area shows the most promise for ramping up oil production in Canada? Heavy oil sands, which are sure to be pummeled by cap and trade schemes. This once again pushes you to find oil elsewhere.

    So those are the realities as I see them. While the administration is pursuing some good energy policies, overall I think their views are far too idealistic, and unlikely to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. My prediction is that we will import more oil 4 years from now than we do today.

    RR

  17. “364 billion gallons” of ethanol to replace oil.

    Wow Robert, not satisfied with the strawman of replacing 100% gasoline, now you throw us the canard of 100% replacement of oil. What’s next, 100% replacement of fossil fuel Btus?

  18. Wow Robert, not satisfied with the strawman of replacing 100% gasoline,

    I guess someone doesn’t understand the usage of the phrase “as a reference point…” Indeed, had I not been merely pointing out the scale of the difference between how much oil we use and how much biofuel it would take to replace it – using an example of a biofuel that we make a lot of – you would have a point. But since that is not the case, you do not.

    RR

  19. I think most people in the world will like the Kit model for home heatingbetter than what Ricer Farmers proposes based on Japan. I define ‘efficient’ as attaining the level of comfort that my wife wants at the lowest cost. My model does include an electric radiant heater in the family room with the house temperature being controlled much lower using a heat pump. The heat pump also provides air conditioning in summer.

    The US electricity generating industry can and does provide all the energy you ‘need’ at a reasonable cost with insignificant environment impact. The energy cost for living in comfortable 2000 square foot house is cheaper than a daily cup of coffee at Starbucks. Granted, I have invested in making my home energy efficient. While 6 billion can not live like Al Gore, I see no technical problem providing electricity for 6 billion for comfortable living standard using the Kit model.

    There is no reason to take away the freedom of choice of lifestyle based on using a moderate amount of energy.

    One of the areas of oil use that has not been discussed is home heating. In cold climates, heating with electricity generated with oil is less efficient than heating directly with oil. In the US, a combination of wood, propane, natural gas, or nuke generated electricity could eliminate the use of oil for heating.

    Maybe Ricer Farmers thinks using charcoal for heating inside drafty homes is okay. Every year immigrants die of carbon monoxide poisoning when they practice traditional methods inside efficient US houses.

  20. Didn’t Khosla claim that 100% of gasoline could be replaced with ethanol? It’s only a straw man if the rebuttal doesn’t reflect the opponent’s position. In the case of gasoline and ethanol, the shoe appears to fit.

  21. One thing to keep in mind is we don’t burn “Oil” in our cars. We burn, primarily, gasoline. The BTU “Hit” has already been taken (from oil to gasoline.)

    Now, Robert, himself, has written that due to ethanol’s much higher Octane Rating you can theoretically replace gasoline with ethanol, gallon for gallon, by using smaller, higher compression engines. Admittedly, those engines are not in the market, now, but they could be rather soon.

  22. I believe Obama was careful always to say “from ME oil” at least once per conversation, and then let people believe what they thought they heard: full energy independence. IMO Obama’s more “tell it like it is” than many politicians, but this is one place he acted more like a classic politician. That said, independence from Iran and Saudi Arabia is *more* achievable in the real world than full independence, and would still be hugely useful politically and environmentally.

  23. Like RR, I think Obama is naïve about energy. However, Obama does not have to right the ship. Bush has done that and steered us on a course away from the rocks and shoals. Obama is calling for change. So far he has neglected to tell the helmsman which direction to steer. Obama is yelling turn, turn. Which way Captain?

    To be fair, it took Bush/Cheney until May 2001 to issue the NATIONAL ENERGY POLICY. Unfortunately, the present admin is comprised of finger pointers not problem solvers.

  24. However, Obama does not have to right the ship. Bush has done that and steered us on a course away from the rocks and shoals.
    Kit,
    What have you been smoking? Cheney basically wants us to grab ME oil. That’s running straight into the rocks and shoals. As our experience in Iraq proves.

    Other than that Bush overstated the capacity of cellulosic ethanol, in other words he was just as naïve as Obama.

    Kit, other than Laura Bush, you must be the only person who thought Bush had an energy policy worth the name…

  25. Admittedly, those engines are not in the market, now, but they could be rather soon.
    Why would it? Would you buy a car that could ONLY ru(i)n on ethanol? Can you even get E85 in your city? Other than a trip through the Mid West, you can take that car on a road trip anywhere. And what happens in five years if (when) the politicians shift their favor to the new wonderfuel (Hydrogen! No, biodiesel! No, biobutanol!)?

    Ethanol is a terrible fuel: low energy content, absorps moisture (leading to a host of corrosion isues), burns with a clear, invisible flame and high vapor pressure (high evaporative losses and emissions).

    Ethanol was meant for internal consumption. Let’s keep it that way! Cheers!

  26. We’re talking about an engine that gets it’s higher compression through a variable ratio turbocharger. It would have less power on gasoline but would run just fine.

    Would I buy such a car? You Betcha! I, currently, drive a flex fuel Impala. I Love it. No American Kids are Dying for MY FUEL!

    There are no stations selling E85 in the Memphis area, right now. I drive to Wynne Arkansas to fill up. It costs me more than I save. I Don’t Care.

    I’m Not Supporting Terrorists, and NO AMERICAN KIDS ARE DYING FOR MY FUEL.

    It feels Great; you oughtta try it.

  27. Corn ethanol refineries that use coal (a fossil fuel) for all processing would not consume much natural gas or petroleum. Soybean biodiesel would not address cars because only a few percent of cars are diesel. Also, it takes roughly three times more acreage to make soy biodiesel than corn ethanol. So now we have acreage and GHG entering into the analysis.
    You could get around all that complicated analysis by using the unused energy crop: waste. You know the free energy crop. Or cheaper than free, as people will usually pay you good money to get rid of waste.

    In 2007, Americans sent 254 million tons of waste to disposal. Of that 83 million tons was classified as “paper or paperboard”.

    Recycling? Sure, a hefty 55% of that “paper or paperboard” was recycled, leaving almost 38 million tons to rot in hell… I mean landfill. Anybody know a better fuel than “paper or paperboard”?

    It gets better: out of 169 million tons of “unrecovered” waste, fully 55% was renewable i.e. adding the “paper or paperboard”, wood, food and yard trimmings together. If you go one step further, and add the organics: the plastics, “rubber and leather” (the latter also renewable actually) and textiles (some which would be renewable) you get to almost 82%!

    No, waste isn’t going to displace crude oil. But it would make a nice dent. And involve far less risk than raiding our food supplies.

    Now if only I can find a prostitutian from a “waste” (wasted?) state…

  28. Would I buy such a car? You Betcha!
    OK, I walked into that one. I meant: Would a rational consumer buy such a car? Someone who does the cost-benefit analysis before making up his mind.

    I, currently, drive a flex fuel Impala. I Love it. No American Kids are Dying for MY FUEL!
    I guess you neglected to count the 15% gasoline in your E85. So, no, you are still supporting the bad guys. But I concede, buying less is something…

    Look I also hate the fact that kids are dying, but IMHO it has more to do with Kit’s hero’s decisions, than energy supplies.

    It feels Great; you oughtta try it.
    Oh, I am. I drive a 28 mpg diesel that I feed a witches brew, 80% old cooking oil. So I reduced my purchases from the bad guys too. And, yes, now that you mention it, it does feel good. Smells better too…

  29. I meant: Would a rational consumer buy such a car?

    Now, that was just, plain mean. 🙂

    I figure we produce 35% of our own oil, so, if I only use 15% in my go-juice I’m within bounds of “Driving American.”

    I need about a 23% discount to come out ahead, financially, using E85 (we were there for awhile last year,) and we’re not there right now; but it’s worth a couple of dollars a week, to me, to feel good about what I’m doing. The Impala, also, seems to have a little more “pep” on the corn likker.

  30. Now, that was just, plain mean. 🙂
    No offense: there aren’t too many rational consumers out there, at least not consistently rational. Some say that’s the fatal flaw in economic theory…

    The Impala, also, seems to have a little more “pep” on the corn likker.
    I’ll take your word for it. How much of a hit do you take on mileage?

  31. Between 20%, and 25%, depending on the weather, and who (my wife, or me) puts on the most miles. It costs me about $4.00, or $5.00/wk, at present.

    The good news on that front is ethanol burns cleaner, and cooler, so my engine might last a little better.

    By the time gasoline gets back to $2.50, or so, I should be breaking even. I’m not rich, so a couple of hundred a year is not “inconsequential,” but I’ll be surprised if I’m not turning a “Profit” on the proposition by this time next year.

    Oh, Thanks for using the Vegetable Oil. We’re not losing any kids in those Missouri “Bean” fields, either.

  32. Rob:
    Do you REALLY think the road to energy independence (which, as you’ve acknowledged, is NOT Obama’s promise), is to get our “producers to produce more…”?? Come on, Rob…you know better than that. As you well know, in all the United States, including Alaska and the Gulf, our total production of crude oil is less than 5 million b/d. We import more than twice that and consume twice again. There has been only ONE year since Prudhoe bay peaked in the mid-80’s that we’ve even had a year-over-year increase in crude oil production. And that’s with the best technology and highest prices. That’s one area I agree with Obama: don’t waste our collective financial resources in a dead-end technology (yes, I believe in peak oil) that has proven itself unable to domestically provide more than a fraction of our energy consumption. Let’s invest in reducing our consumption and developing the energy technologies of the future.

  33. No American are dying to bring us oil. It is rather unethical to use the dead bodies of young American to support your political agenda.

    Farming is one of the most hazardous occupations. Farmers could be dying to produce biofuels but that would require a lot of analysis to determine. If we could reduce the aggressive driving and cell phone use we could save lives and fuel. Too much to ask American to drive like they respect the lives of the neighbors. When it comes to profound disrespect for life, wait till you drive in places like Madrid or Rome.

  34. Kit, I paid for the right to express my opinion with 13 Months driving a 5 Ton in South Vietnam.

    My “political agenda” is 4,000 Dead Kids in Iraq.

    If you think we went there to protect the good citizens of Des Moines from Saddam Hussein, that’s your business.

    My opinion is we went there to make sure the good citizens of Des Moines, and Memphis had gasoline for their cars, and Diesel for their trucks. And, that’s why I think we’ll be there for the next 30 years. If we leave next year, I’ll admit I was wrong.

    I was driving a Ford tractor when I was nine, and a John Deere when I was ten. I know a little bit about the dangers inherent in farming. Believe me, it doesn’t compare to a War Zone.

    In the meantime, my money is staying in the United States, and the air is cleaner when I drive through your neighborhood. I would think that would make you happy.

  35. re: Robert Rapier
    ==Only nuclear can scale like that.==

    With all due respect, Nuclear scales linearly (Or more specifically “step growth”). Renewables tend to have a more exponential scaling.

    Slow Returns on Investment, making them hard to reinvest for more growth. Hard to get growth upon growth for Nuclear.

    Also solar thermal for instance, I fail to see though what the argument for a lack of scaling for flat heliostats would be.

    Is there some sort of hard limit on our capability to produce plate glass mirrors?

  36. Do you REALLY think the road to energy independence (which, as you’ve acknowledged, is NOT Obama’s promise), is to get our “producers to produce more…”??

    In the long run, certainly not. But I am certain that any scheme to get us off of Mideast and Venezuelan oil in 10 years that does not emphasize domestic production will fail. The U.S. peaked a long time ago, but everyone agrees that we still have oil in locations that are currently off limits. If we don’t get that oil, we will continue to get it from the Mideast. I covered the issue in a lot more detail in:

    The Drilling Debate: Narrowing the Chasm

    The key point here is that relative to biofuels, we are much more likely to take a bite out of oil imports with domestic production in the short term.

    That’s one area I agree with Obama: don’t waste our collective financial resources in a dead-end technology (yes, I believe in peak oil) that has proven itself unable to domestically provide more than a fraction of our energy consumption.

    Then there should be no delusions about reducing oil imports. Domestic oil will only provide a fraction – true. Biofuels, on the other hand, will provide a fraction of a fraction. So that leaves us dependent upon commercial technologies yet to be invented.

    Let’s invest in reducing our consumption and developing the energy technologies of the future.

    I agree with that, however there is no technology on the horizon that appears likely to make up for the oil imports we are talking about. Reducing consumption? Any realistic plan has to take a big bite out of consumption, but I see us taking the same road we always take: We want that bite to be painless to the consumers. Or at least to appear painless. We think that by mandating tougher auto standards, the consumer merely benefits from using less fuel. But it doesn’t actually work like that. In order to consume less, consumers have to be faced with higher prices. It is the one lever that we know is quite effective.

    RR

  37. In order to consume less, consumers have to be faced with higher prices. It is the one lever that we know is quite effective.
    Sounds like you are slowly coming to my conclusion: We need higher oil prices, not the Benny version of the future. The good thing: prices work pretty quickly.

    Now if only we could take out those painful spikes! Oh well, I guess we’ll get used to those too…

  38. Rufus, I spent 10 years in the navy and if you think the ‘front line’ was hard to define is hard to define you would be right. Are you sure it is not Des Moines and Memphis?

    My dad font out about the new front line when he was stationed in in Hawaii in 1941, then Iceland, then the South Pacific, then the Berlin Air, then Korea, and then Vietnam. Growing up I knew where the front line was. I learned what my dad would not talk about when I was in the navy. The front line was places like Des Moines and Memphis. SH started his reign of terror about the same I got out of the navy.

    SH was as demented as Hitler and Stalin. SH aspired to lead the Arab world against the west. SH used a lot of oil money to that end. The fatal flaw in SH’s plan was he thought US presidents did not have the will to shop him.

    For those like Rufus who failed to notice that the front line with a new set of enemies changed to Des Moines and Memphis on 9/11 let me assure you that the lesson was not lost on SH. I did not learn this from Bush. I learned it from SH web site.

    So Rufus, if you can think of a better way to stop SH from using profits from selling oil for evil; please let me know. The new front line is Iraq.

    So yes, I think the president of the US deployed the military to make the world a better place. I inherited the right to express my opinion from my father who stood the line and deployed weapons. My children have inherited the right to express their opinions because Rufus and I stood the line at a time in our life when we did not understand why.

    The tradition continues of a peaceful nation bearing arms to stand the line against evil.

    “I was driving a Ford tractor when I was nine,..”

    So what did you learn, rufus?

    What I learned working as a youth is that child labor laws have a purpose. I do not want children or anyone else producing energy following unsafe work practices. I too would rather keep my money at home because I think American farmers can work safely and I am pretty sure they will not use the profits to invade Canada.

  39. Kit,

    I learned how to drive a tractor, and “Pray for Rain.” When it rained my Poor father’s belly quit hurting, and I got to go to town.

    I supported the war in Iraq. The sanctions were breaking down, and I figured, eventually, we were going to have an oil-rich, nuclear armed madman running around the middle east. I didn’t think we had a “choice.”

    Now, I think we do.

    I was in the Marine Corps. I went in in 65′. My brother was a “Seagoing” Bellhop, and I thought I would look real snazzy in those Dress Blues. Oh, and I was “hung-over.” I was about as smart, then, as I am now. In other words, I could usually get my shoe laces tied, if you gave me a some time, and just a little bit of help.

    Speaking of the Navy, my uncle, and name-sake joined the Navy in order to send a little money home (and escape the lynch-mob:) He was on the West Virginia at Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941. No more money home.

    We had a couple of the clan go “mark paid” to that debt.

    I’m getting older, now. I don’t want your family, or mine, settling any more scores if we can help it. That’s the main reason I support Ethanol, Solar, Wind, and any other thing that can keep us out of as much of that as possible. That, plus I think it’s just plain, good business sense.

    Well, that’s my story, and I’m sticking with it. Have a good’un.

  40. Rufus, I joined the navy to get a practical skill and see the world. As it turns out, I like making and it seems mostly places in the world people like using it.

    I am also an advocate of renewable energy to the extent that is at least as safe and environmentally friendly as conventional methods.

    Even if killing our people in tractor rollover accidents made good business sense, you would find that I would not support biofuels if they could not meet safety standards.

  41. Kit, most of the fields have been levelled, now. I don’t think there are very many tractor “rollover” deaths, nowadays.

    It’s not like the “old days” 🙂 when we’d run the old three wheeler up onto the bank of the ditch, lift Power Takeoff, yank the steering wheel, hit the right brake, and hold our breath.

    Heck, I’ll bet in twenty years half the tractors out there won’t even have people on them. The GPS can do it a lot better.

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