Transcript from My EIA Panel Session

I only recently became aware that the 2009 Energy Conference put on by the Energy Information Administration has posted the audio and transcripts of all of the sessions. You can hear the audio or download the transcript from my session – Energy and the Media – here. I summarized the overall conference in two posts right after the conference:

The 2009 EIA Energy Conference: Day 1

The 2009 EIA Energy Conference: Day 2

My fellow panelists were Steven Mufson from the Washington Post; Eric Pooley from Harvard, (and the former managing editor of Fortune); and Barbara Hagenbaugh from USA Today. The panel was moderated by John Anderson of Resources for the Future (and a long-time reporter and editorial writer for the Washington Post).

There were questions on the oil price run-up of 2008 (and how the media handled the coverage), false balance in reporting, scale of biofuels versus petroleum usage, peak oil, and the role bloggers are playing now with respect to reporting news.

I will extract portions of my comments below, correcting the transcription as needed for clarity. (For instance, when I said I also write for The Oil Drum, it was transcribed as “aldrum.”)

Mr. Anderson: …subject of energy of the media, a rich subject if ever there was one. My name is John Anderson. I’m joined here by four people who are in the midst of that subject. From my left, Steve Mufson, who writes on this for the Washington Post, and incidentally was also a Beijing Bureau Chief of the Post for several years which turns out to have relevance to our subject. Eric Pooley, who had a long career at Time Incorporated. He was national political correspondent among other things, and managing editor of Time, and has recently been at the Kennedy School at Harvard. Robert Rapier, who resides over the R-SQUARED Energy blog which I and I suspect many of you pay attention to, and Barbara Hagenbaugh who covers economics and energy for USA Today.

I would like to start off by going around the table and asking about a piece of recent history clear in everybody’s minds — four dollar gasoline last summer, $147 oil. That was a huge story for several months. In retrospect, how did we do? Did we get it roughly right? Did we have the causes and consequences roughly right? And in retrospect, what could we have done differently?

My response to that one:

Mr. Rapier: I’ve got a stat counter on my blog, and it tells me what brought people in there and where they came from. “Why are oil and gas prices rising?” is probably the number one keyword search that brings people in. Sometimes ironically from the media, they want to know why oil and gas prices are rising.

I’m an inventory watcher, and I use the EIA data religiously every week when they put out the statistics. On Wednesday I go in and I look to see what oil inventories are doing, what gasoline inventories are doing because we have a pretty good idea of what the gasoline inventory situation is.

So in 2007 we had, I think it was ten or eleven weeks in a row, that gasoline inventories fell, and they fell well below the average range just as we were going into summer driving season. And I got in a little bit of a friendly banter back and forth with Doug McIntyre who wrote This Week in Petroleum at that time, he works for the EIA, and I said I think we’re heading for record gas prices by Memorial Day. He said that generally prices pull off before then and level off. And I said, “Yes, but look at the trend here. The gasoline inventory trend was like this.” I said, “Something has got to give here because demand is just about to pick up.” And sure enough, that’s when we hit $3.00 gasoline by Memorial Day.

In the world oil markets it’s a little bit more murky because we don’t always have good inventory data. Again, we do in the U.S. We’ve got pretty good data in the U.S., but gasoline — if you want to know what gasoline prices are going to do, pay attention to inventories, and the time of year. I mean, if gasoline inventories are low in the fall; it’s not such a big deal. Gasoline inventories low going into summer driving season, that’s something you better watch out for.

Hurricane season. Going into hurricane season you better have good inventories. And we didn’t last year, and that’s again — when the hurricanes started to come in, I warned people we’re going to see some gasoline shortages. And we did because the refineries went down. We didn’t have enough inventories on hand, and suddenly spot shortages.

I was then asked about peak oil:

Mr. Anderson: I hope the EIA is listening. There may be someone from the EIA here for all I know. Robert, you have dealt recently in your blog with the interesting question are we running out of oil? This is one that all reporters constantly have to deal with. How do you deal with that?

Mr. Rapier: It’s obviously a very controversial subject. And often I see very frequently media stories dealing with peak oil as we’re actually not running out of oil. We’ve still got a trillion barrels in the ground. So the issue is not running out of oil. We will never be running out of oil. We will have oil for one hundred more years. It’s can we get it out of the ground fast enough to keep up with demand growth? And that’s where the problem is going to lie in my opinion and forward.

We may see an oil production peak in the next three to five years. There are a lot of very authoritative people who believe that that’s the case. There are some people that would believe that renewables are going to come in and fill that void. I’m not one of those people. I believe it will — there will be a contribution, but if we have a world oil production peak in the next three to five years we’ve got a serious problem.

But again, it’s not about running out of oil. And that’s the most common misconception I see about peak oil when people write about peak oil. They want to debunk that by showing how much oil is left in the ground, and that’s what we’re talking about, issues like one trillion barrels of shale in Utah. The trillion barrels doesn’t help if it takes more than one trillion barrels worth of energy to get it out. In that case it’s useless. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to get that oil out. So we don’t have a trillion barrels of recoverable reserves, maybe a very small fraction of that because the energy balance on that is very marginal.

On the issue of there not always being black and white answers to some of the questions:

Mr. Anderson: Barbara, how does a reporter working from day to day deal with the problem of editors and readers who want sharp clear answers to questions like this that are very much in controversy and very often as Robert suggests aren’t even quite the right questions?

Ms. Hagenbaugh: It’s complicated, and you know, USA Today a lot of times, I’ve got this much space to do all that. So I mean, the most important thing is like Robert just said, there’s two sides to this story and this is always to try to bring that out. I sometimes — editors get frustrated with me because I don’t come out and say this is how it is and this is what the answer is.

On the question of false balance:

Mr. Rapier: I put the question to my readers on my blog and also at The Oil Drum where I write—I said, “Energy in the media, what do we need to talk about?” False balance, probably the most popular answer. One reader gave the example: “scientists discover that the earth is round: flat earth society disagrees.”

The problem is it’s not always clear who the flat earth society is especially in the new biofuels technologies. Algae into biodiesel, is that flat earth thinking that we’re going to be doing that on a grand scale within five years? I can’t even tell for sure early on. I have to really dig and dig.

Steve (Mufson) interviewed me about three or four years ago. It was very early on whenever I was writing about ethanol. He interviewed me for about an hour and one tiny snippet showed up in that story. And I thought, boy, that was a lot of work, but I understand why he did it now. Steve is one of the best writers out there on energy. He does his homework. It really takes a lot of discussion to determine whether I’m credible or a complete nut, and that’s what you have to do. And not everybody does that. And so you get some of this false balance reporting; lazy reporters who simply want quotes from both sides. It’s important for the reporters to really do research. And the good ones do, and the good ones don’t take the false balance approach.

Then came an exchange that was longer than I remembered it being:

Mr. Anderson: Robert speaks with some authority. He’s the one person on the panel, and one of the few people writing on this subject who has a technical background. He’s a chemical engineer, unlike most reporters. Steve, did you want to add anything to that?

Mr. Rapier: That means I can get away without wearing a tie, though, and people forgive me for that.

Mr. Anderson: What about ethanol? How should a reporter approach the future of ethanol? What are the questions he should ask?

Mr. Rapier: Energy in and energy out is very important, but it’s not the only important thing. And I give an example. Some people say that if it takes more than a BTU of a fuel to make a BTU of ethanol that’s a no go. It’s not really because coal, for instance, is quite cheap. So if you took two BTUs of coal to make a BTU of liquid fuel ethanol, from an economic standpoint maybe that’s doable. So the energy in and energy out is not the complete story.

Unintended consequences — I don’t think we spend enough time thinking about what can happen here. What are the things that can happen? Cellulosic ethanol -we turn all this biomass into cellulosic ethanol. What are the implications?

There was a story a while back. Michigan, they figured out they might not have enough trees to fuel this cellulosic ethanol plant because cellulosic biomass in general has a very low energy density. And that’s what I call the logistical problems of cellulosic ethanol. You have to go out farther and farther to fuel this plant. Do the calculations of a mid-size cellulosic ethanol plant; it is going to consume the equivalent of about one million mature trees a year. So think about a 20-year lifetime, 20 million trees, that’s a lot of biomass. And as you get out to the edges of that you’re burning up all your energy getting it back into the plant.

So, those are the kind of things I would question. Your logistics. How are you going to logistically pull this off? How many trucks in and out of days is that? And how in the future are you going to fuel this? A lot of the biofuel options we have are really recycled fossil fuel because they’re entirely dependent on fossil fuel. If fossil fuel prices go up —they have to go up because that’s what they are. They’re fossil fuel. And we really need to go to something — and I talk about the Brazilian ethanol example.

I’m a fan of Brazilian ethanol. I was in India last year, and they do the same thing. I went through a plant. They end up with a waste material at the plant that they have to dispose of bagasse It’s free fuel. Now we don’t have something — in Louisiana and Florida they could potentially do something like that, but the economics of selling molasses and sugar are better than turning it into ethanol, but they do the same thing. They’ve got all the bagasse, and they use it to fuel their plant. A model like that will work. And people sometimes say — and this is some of the false balance that we discussed earlier. Dan Rather, Frank Sesno out there saying, “I was in Brazil. I saw what they did. We can do the same thing.” The problem is we’ve got a higher population than Brazil. We use six times the per capita energy of Brazil. It’s completely apples and oranges.

So, no way can we emulate Brazil, but I see person after person saying the ethanol miracle in Brazil was done because the government set the mandates and they set the standards. What they don’t tell you is that the ethanol miracle really is about 90-percent oil. Ninety percent of their energy comes from oil, and Brazil makes a lot of oil per capita, and they’ve got a lot of oil reserves. That’s how the ethanol miracle in Brazil happened.

On the question of trying to sort what is and isn’t credible:

Mr. Rapier: It’s like Eric said, there’s a lot of garbage out there. And the thing is you can find an argument for any position you wish to make. I can support the flat earth position by things I find on the internet. I can go edit Wikipedia and then use that to support the point that I’m trying to make. So you really have to be careful and you have to know what’s credible, what’s not credible. It’s like drinking from a fire hose. There’s just so much information.

When I’m researching a story, I could take either side and I can support it.

It then went into Q&A from the audience:

Mr. Hall: Yes, Chris Hall, independent oil and gas producer from California. I enjoyed the discussion on ethanol because I think as an industry we spent $135 million to fight Proposition 87 which would have imposed a severance tax, but EIA and the country is focused on reducing our dependence on foreign oil by increasing investment in green energy. And yet the forecasts show the need as you referred to for large supplies of oil and gas and coal during the next 20 years. Meanwhile, the domestic fossil fuels are under attack in Washington, as well as state and local governments, to punish them for last year’s high prices, for polluting the environment, to raise funds to offset deficits, to pay for development of renewable resources, all of which appeal to the public. For example, the Administration 2010 budget would result in the elimination of most of the R&D budget from Department of Energy for the oil and gas industry, would increase 150 percent in oil and gas taxes and a 40 percent reduction in drilling by one account. This will only lead to less domestic oil supply for our needs. How can the media help explain the problem so that we just don’t make matters worse?

Mr. Rapier: I spend a lot of time writing about that kind of issue, and make no mistake I’m a big fan of alternative energy. I would like to see us produce all our energy domestically, but I’m a realist as well. I submitted a question to Secretary Chu yesterday. He did not take it, but it was along the lines of I find it very ironic that he is calling on OPEC to continue producing and at the same time domestic oil and gas has essentially no part in the Administration. So I agree with that. I think the reality is we’re heading down a path here where we’re likely to increase our imports because we’re going to disincentivize our domestic production.

And I know the administration is counting on renewable to fill that gap. I don’t believe that’s going to happen. I believe they will play a part. I believe we should continue to fund that, but I’d also like to see the Administration take a more realistic view of some of these forecasts. Seventy-nine percent oil and gas, maybe that’s not desirable, but that’s what it looks like it’s going to be. So we prefer to get that domestically, I think, as much to the extent possible, but I think we’re just going to be importing it more from OPEC when biofuel targets fall short. We’re going to be counting on Venezuela, and you’ll hear future energy secretaries continue to call on OPEC: “Please don’t cut us off.”

My friend Morgan Downey then asked which books I recommend:

Mr. Downey: Morgan Downey. Just written the book Oil 101. And Robert, I read in your blog this morning that a survey came out earlier this week that said that more than half of Americans could not name one alternative fuel. And is there a role for books and other slow media in improving the average person’s energy IQ and what books in oil would you recommend?

Mr. Rapier: Well, Morgan knows that I’m 250 pages into his book, which is a fantastic book, by the way. The survey you refer to, that was pretty disheartening to read that. I think 51 percent of people surveyed couldn’t name an alternative fuel. Thirty-nine percent couldn’t name a fossil fuel. Nineteen percent said I couldn’t care less. I think you’ll find and I see the same thing, interests waxes and wanes with oil prices. Oil prices are high. Gasoline prices are high. People want to know what’s going on. So the best thing for your book would be for gas prices to start setting new records this year. People will pick up the book and they want to know what’s happening? Why is this happening?

Mr. Downey: Any other books in oil you recommend, or what do you read?

Mr. Rapier: I read a lot of different view points. One of the first ones I ever read was Twilight in the Desert which I think is a good book. It has some faults, but it kind of brings attention to the potential issue with Saudi Arabia. So that was one of the early books that influenced me.

Within the industry, I’m reading technical books on refining. And this is what I told Morgan, that his refining section is incredibly detailed. I don’t think there is a popular book that exists like that with that kind of information. Within the refining industry I’ve got technical refining books, and those are the things that I read to — how do we troubleshoot the cat cracker – and you don’t go into that sort of detail, but for a lay person who really wants to be informed about energy, I can’t give your book a high enough endorsement. I think it’s a fantastic book.

Mr. Rapier: Gusher of Lies by Robert Bryce, I really like that one, too.

There was a question about fact-checking, which was the last thing I responded to:

Mr. Rapier: I have a big issue with fact checking myself. I saw that with the SPR, Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The rate of fill that was reported and picked up and reported and reported was wrong. I showed the actual numbers from the SPR. It was about half what the reported fill rate was. And those kinds of things annoy me. And I wonder why more people don’t. Somebody, somewhere calculated a number based on some monthly fill rate and extrapolated it for a year, and it was just wrong. And then everybody picked it up and just ran with it. So I sympathize.

Anyway, my contribution was only a small part of the whole, which I think went on for about an hour. I would have published this sooner, but only became aware of the transcript about a week ago.

59 thoughts on “Transcript from My EIA Panel Session”

  1. RR — Thanks for posting this.

    It is really great to see you (as a bona fide biofuels fan) out there telling it like it is on the scale of demand, and the consequent limited expectations people should have for biofuels.

    It is the enormous global scale of demand that points to the critical role that expanded nuclear power will have to play in the foreseeable future. Nothing else can come close, with the technology we have today.

    It seems that there could be a useful role for processes to convert nuclear heat into transportation fuels — mining liquid hydrocarbons from oil shales & tar sands; maybe even providing process heat for biofuel extraction.

    It was rank stupidity for the US to throw away its early lead in nuclear power. It would be criminally stupid to continue to ignore fission energy.

  2. Robert,

    You see peak oil as being three to five years away? Is that your true feeling or just a WAG?

    Thanks,
    -Melanie

  3. You see peak oil as being three to five years away? Is that your true feeling or just a WAG?

    Melanie,

    It is more accurate to say that I believe it will be within that time frame. I don't discount the possibility that we are there now, but I think the situation now would be more of a Peak Lite situation. But if I had to put a range of probabilities, my personal belief is 50% probability within 3 years and 70% within 5 years of peak.

    Again, that isn't to say that we aren't there already, I just think that the price collapse from last year caused a lot of capacity by OPEC to be taken offline and so we don't know what the real capacity is right now.

    RR

  4. “It was rank stupidity for the US to throw away its early lead in nuclear power.”

    Bill Clinton gave it the old college try but failed to kill the US nuclear industry. The old adage still hold, what does not kill you makes you stronger. Bill did not do much for renewable energy either.

    The US nuclear industry became the world leader in 20-year lifetime extensions extensions that means that major refurbishing, such as replacement of steam generators, While they were at it, why not add a few hundred MWe to the capacity.

    Lots of work for everybody and not one victory for the anti-nukes.

    Meanwhile, Bush became president thought we should have the ability to build nukes and provided inventive to built 4 in the US and allow American engineers to design reactors for China and India and other places.

    So the US has not lost its lead, there is just more competition then there used to be.

  5. If I had to quibble with RR's excellent commentary, it would be to say he does not give enough credit to the price mechanism.

    There may or may not be Peak Oil in 5 to 25 years out. But higher prices will both decrease demand and spur alternatives.

    Peak Oil will be a non-event.

    Moreover, I can see many scenarios in which we obtain higher living standards and cleaner air while using much less oil.

    As Kinu has pointed out, the Bush-Obama tag team may foil even our best capitalists and engineers–but I think the globe will move ahead, and drag America with it. Even the B-O team can't stink up progress everywhere.

    Better days are ahead.

  6. Rembrandt writes kind of funny, but it seems, from looking at the charts, that OECD Oil, and Product Stocks have been falling by about 1 Million Barrels/Day for the last couple of months. OilWatch Monthly Charts.

    Meantime, most people/analysts seem to agree that about 1 Million Barrels/Day are coming out of "floating storage."

    All this while the OECD is still, pretty much, mired in "slow growth"/recession.

    Add to that the Wiki Megaprojects data that shows "Declines" from existing fields "Exceeding" Gains from New Fields by about 600,000 Barrels per Day in 2010, and IIRC, 600,000 bpd in 2011, and One Million bpd in 2012, and China + India Growing their Oil Consumption by somewhere between 1.5 and 2.0 Million BPD, Annually,

    and, Bros, it looks a heck of a lot like an impending trainwreck to me. I'd take the "Overs" on $3.00/gal this Summer in a heartbeat.

  7. Rufus –

    Did you post on the other thread about 'competitive instincts' kicking in and things not being too far gone? And now you make a pretty doomy post. Consider me confused on your views.

    OD

  8. Different issues.

    I don't believe we'll, necessarily, lay down, and play dead to China's emergence as a "Dominant" power.

    And, I DO believe we will overcome the Oil "Shortages" of the future. However,

    "Peak OIl" is what it "Is."

    It looks to me like we could be in for some tough times for awhile until we "wake up," and get to work.

  9. “Moreover, I can see many scenarios in which we obtain higher living standards and cleaner air while using much less oil.”

    Where do you live? It is really hard to find a place that does not have clean air all the time?

    http://www.airnow.gov/

    Low taxes, good school, no crime, good jobs, short commutes, and affordable housing; just what do want for a higher standard of living, 25 year old French maids?

    Sure the watermelons have turned the paradise that was California into a place that is too expensive to live and the are working on the rest of the country but there are plenty of places to live where the loons get tossed out of office.

  10. "It is really hard to find a place that does not have clean air all the time?"

    Benny is an Angelino — which certainly is one of the most challenging air quality spots on the planet, because of the natural temperature inversions against the mountains. For what it is worth, someone from Southern California told me that the LA basin was called the Valley of the Smokes by the original Indian inhabitants, long before industrialization.

    California is interesting. Humans arrived there after the last Ice Age and had about 10,000 years to populate the place fully. When the conquering Spaniards arrived, they found an estimated 0.25 Million Indians in California. That was all California could support naturally.

    Today, following industrialization, there are over 35 Million Californians.

    Something to think about, when the environmentalists start chanting. We need truly large-scale sources of power.

  11. “We need truly large-scale sources of power.”

    Nuclear power will not help air quality in the LA basin. Too many people driving too many cars too many miles. The solution is simple. Ratio gasoline by selling less. In California they want to bad the coal plant that makes my electricity. Why not ban driving to the beach, mountains, and casinos?

    Benny could move but but he would rather disrespect president.

  12. No, I want 18-year-old French maids, and hot too.
    Many cities have dirty air. L.A. has made terrific progress in last 20 years, probably boosting property values tremendously anywhere off the coast, such as Hollywood area, downtown etc.
    But try the air in Houston, Denver… even NYC in the summertime.

    City air is dirty, certainly compared to country air. It is an oddity of urban life that if you make too much noise, your neighbors complain, and eventually the cops come. You can pollute the air your neighbors breath, nearly with impunity, as long as drive around and do it with millions of others. Property rights mean nothing in Smogtown.

    The PHEV and CNG cars will clean up city air quite a bit–while keeping our dollars home. We will also show more respect for the property rights of those who own land inside urban areas.

  13. “I don't believe we'll, necessarily, lay down, and play dead to China's emergence as a "Dominant" power.”

    The way Rufus used the word 'dominant power' in a sentence caused me to look it up 'dominant' in the dictionary. China is a country that is drowning in a sea poor people. While 2/3 still provided slave labor to the 1/3 that have a better standard of living 10 years, I would be hardly to say China is emerging as a world power.

    It is true that China has the largest standing army but it is an army of occupation to maintain a system of slave labor. It did put the fear of god in Tibet. China is a world leader in coal production based on slave labor but even so it can no longer meet demand and has stopped exporting coal.

    The dominate naval force in the Sea of China is the US Navy. China has no aircraft carriers like CVN-77. China has no aircraft carriers at all. China has only a couple of missile subs (SSBN) but it is questionable if they can be deployed. China essentially has no blue water navy. Japan and South Korea are very happy with this status quo.

    The US is the #1 producer of electricity, #2 producer of natural gas and coal, #3 producer of oil. We also have no trouble growing all the food we need. If the US has weakness it is that it has allowed the nanny state to limit production of oil so we have to import way too much oil.

    The US is the #1 importer of oil but China is #3. So China is gaining in the same weakness with every car sold to the middle class.

    The naval doctrine of the US is freedom of the seas. Every ship in the world has a right of passage.

    Only the US has the capacity to pump out super carriers with twin reactors that last 40 years between refueling. Last I counted we has 12. We also have another dozen smaller carriers that carry marines and their ground combat support fighters. The US sub fleet is very capable too.

    The US is the dominant power in the world. Combine that with our allies at NATO, Japan, and South Korea and their just is not reason for China to waste money trying to compete in that area.

    What confuses many Americans is the constant saber rattling of loony dictators with too much cash to buy weapons. China, Russia, North Korea can sell all the weapons they like. If fact Russian tanks should come with a warning label. THIS TANK WILL BECOME A BURNING INFERNO IN THE PRESENCE OF AMERICAN AIRCRAFT.

  14. Benny when I suggested that you move if you do not like your air quality, I was not suggesting you move to another cesspool.

    “The PHEV and CNG cars will clean up city air quite a bit”

    I have been hearing that for twenty years. Why wait, let me suggest you move now and stop blaming your neighbors. First Benny tells how terrible it is, then he tells us that it is a lot better than it used to be. I suspect Benny is waiting for his subsidy from the majority of Americans who are smart enough to live where the air is clean so he can buy a PHEV and CNG cars.

    Should we call him Benny I want my hadout too Cole?

  15. Kit-

    We are an urbanized nation, and it is our rural people who live only by the grace of vast federal subsidies, for their water systems, highways, postal service, power systems, telephone service and agricultural industries.

    In 2008 alone, $8 billion was spent subsidizing rural telephone systems, and $60 billion in crop supports. Our rural areas would empty out without continuing federal subsidies. We have created an entire socialized, knock-kneed, enfeebled populace and economy in our rural areas. Our rural residents are the most coddled weaklings on the planet.

    Clean air and water? Who has the right to pollute the air and water?

    This is a question that flummoxes the free market, and those who respect property rights. It vexes me, in fact.

    And, I subsidize everyone who drives an gasoline ICE (and that includes me), through onerous federal taxes that support the military industrial complex and our access to Mideast oil.

    Bring on the PHEVs and CNG cars. Keep our money in the USA.

    The Oil Era is ending, and with a whimper.

  16. "And, I subsidize everyone who drives an gasoline ICE (and that includes me), through onerous federal taxes that support the military industrial complex and our access to Mideast oil."

    Wow! I had been wondering who paid my bills. Here you are! Thanks, Benny. Is it OK if I do a Barack and ask you for a little more?

    It is important to all of us that we try to use words with their proper meaning — as that good left-winger George Orwell pointed out years ago. It is meaningless to say that you "subsidize" the military industrial complex. Any more than you "subsidize" your local police department, or your home insurance company. You pay for protection. Whether you get value for money is up to you to decide.

    One test for "subsidy" is what happens if it is withdrawn. For example, as California has proved on several occasions, take away the involuntary gift from the taxpayer and most "renewable" "green" expenditures stop. Bird whackers, solar heaters — those really are subsidized.

    Replace oil as a power source, and it is a very good bet that the US will still have a military — it did before 1859. And it is an even better bet that politicians will still be leaning on Benny to pay high taxes. You are not "subsidizing" gasoline, Benny.

    As a side note — back in the 1970s, it was certainly true that Compressed Natural Gas vehicles had cleaner exhausts than gasoline engines. The tremendous advances in engine design since then have largely obviated that one-time advantage — both fuels are pretty good now.

  17. Off topic, but this is sort of interesting: Ethanol burns dirtier than gasoline, study finds

    A recent study conducted by researchers at Stanford University has revealed that ethanol fuel produces more ozone that regular gasoline. When ethanol is burned through combustion, it produces emissions that are substantially higher than gasoline in aldehydes, the carcinogenic precursors to ozone.

  18. Kinu-
    Like your post, but you unfairly twisted what I wrote.
    I subsidize gasoline-ICE drivers through my taxes, that pay for our huge military-industrial complex, that protects our access to Mideast oil.
    I subsidize gasoline, I pay taxes for the US military (and our rural parasite economy).
    The full cost of a gallon of gasoline is not reflected in the price of gasoline.
    Yes, even if we become energy independent, we would need a military, a sad fact of life.
    As President Eisenhower noted, militaries are parasites, even good ones. So are churches.

  19. That's a silly article. It references "Acetaldehydes," which have NEVER been show to cause cancer, and IGNORES BENZENE from Gasoline which is one of the deadliest Carcinogens on Earth.

    Isaakson, and his minions, have tried to do something with nitrous oxides (measured in parts per Billion,) and ignored the fact that E85 reduces Carbon Monoxide (another pre-cursor of Ozone pollution) by 30%.

    Of course, when all else fails, you can try "looking out the window." After LA introduced a 6% ethanol blend smog went Down, significantly.

    Nonsense.

  20. After LA introduced a 6% ethanol blend smog went Down, significantly.

    I was there a couple of months ago, and it was pretty horrible. We had this discussion over at TOD; you can find stations that show an improvement and you can find those where the levels increased. What I have never seen is a comprehensive overview of all the stations to show what happened "on average" across the basin.

    RR

  21. I just spent some time in the LA air quality database. Really difficult to eyeball it and see any trends one way or the other. I am trying to find out if anyone has done a thorough study on this.

    RR

  22. I live near the middle of Los Angeles, just north of Dodger Stadium. The air is much better than decades ago–still, who has the right to pollute air?
    And without paying for it? We are inflicting damage on people's health and their property values, without compensation.
    I pollute too, everytime I drive my 1986 truck around.
    It is a vexing question. Even libertarians agree your rights stop at my front fence–but your foul air does not.
    I hope the solution is widescale adoption of PHEVs.
    France is so close to a wonderful model–lots of nuke power and PHEVs.
    If PHEVs can be commercialized, we are free of much pollution, noise and huge bills to oil thug states.
    GM comes out with the Volt soon, Toyota coming out with PHEV-Prius. Interesting times. Lithium batteries getting better by the day.
    There is a better, more prosperous and cleaner world ahead, if we only go for it.

  23. Wendell

    Here is a quote from the original sources: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-12/su-evg121409.php
    “They found that at warm temperatures, from freezing up to 41 degrees Celsius (give F conversion), in bright sunlight, E85 raised the concentration of ozone in the air by up to 7 parts per billion more than produced by gasoline. At cold temperatures, from freezing down to minus 37 degrees Celsius, they found E85 raised ozone concentrations by up to 39 parts per billion more than gasoline.”

    The first thing to notice about Wendall's link is that the author cherry pick the data leaving out the low model results of 7 ppm increase. Checking http://www.airnow.gov/ it look like the only air quality issues on the winter day are PM.

  24. Kit P said: "The US is the dominant power in the world."

    It was interesting that you posted about the US being a dominant MILITARY power in response to Rufus's comments about China becoming a dominant ECONOMIC power. Are you suggesting that the US might use the one to prevent the other?

  25. "As President Eisenhower noted, militaries are parasites, even good ones. So are churches."

    Parasites live off the host, giving nothing in return. An example would be many of the residents of Washington DC, and too many of the residents of Sacramento.

    A symbiote lives off the host while providing something that is of value (maybe even essential) to the host in return. That would be a better word for the military of a country such as the USA.

  26. Kinu-

    I am speaking in the global sense. Globally, militaries are parasites, feeding off the host–the rest of us. In fact, militaries are worse than parasites, as militaries inflict damage on civilian populations, while mere parasites only feed.

    It is a darkest of curses that we must support an incredibly wasteful enterprise–the Department of Defense– to retain our freedoms.

  27. Any African-Americans here insulted by Kit P's idea of "slave labor"?

    What about Kit saying China has slave labor would be offensive to American African-Americans?

    Unfortunately, slave labor still does exist in the world, much of it in Africa — both in Arabic North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.

  28. The question of air quality is complicated, because there are so many factors in play. Other regulations have an influence, as does the number of people on the roads. From looking at the data that last time I debated Rufus over at TOD, you could cherry-pick to spin almost any story you want.

    It would take a really big effort to try to separate out the specific impact from ethanol. I queried Mark Jacobson, because if anyone keeps up with these things it is him. Here was part of his response:

    Air quality in LA has generally improved over the last 30 year, but it has nothing to do with ethanol. It has resulted from the 1970 Clean Air Act Amendments that resulted in the catalytic converter and the gradual phaseout of not-catalytic converter cars as well as draconian regulations by the SCAQMD on multiple sources of pollution.

    Please see Figure 1 of the document

    http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/E85ResptoComm.pdf

    that shows the trend in air quality in LA from 1975-2005. Note how air quality was improving long before ethanol was introduced into LA and worsened the first year that E6 was introduced, in 2003 (although that in itself is not much proof of anything except that any claim that ethanol has improved air quality cannot be seen in any dataset).

    RR

  29. You accuse Me of "spinning," and then you link to Jacobson's chart that shows Ca. switching to E6 in the middle of 2002. If you look where Ozone was the beginning of 03, and where it was the end of '03, I'll rest my case.

    Jacobson wants to run ALL cars off Windmills, Solar Panels, and "Hydrogen." How's them "Solar Panels" working out in ol' Kaliforniay, anyway? Got Feinstein on board, yet?

    Meanwhile, Ethanol is powering the equiv. of 18 – 20 Million Cars.

    Everybody in the World has come up with a 30% reduction in CO "Except" Jacobson. But, I'm supposed to believe the guy with the deceptive chart. Right.

    How much did Exxon give Stanford, again? $500 Million?

  30. I learned some of my American English from Californian weather forecasts, Rufus. Apparently those days are "unhealthful".

    🙂

  31. I am not trying to offend anyone from the Free Republic of California. Would you be happier if we called Chinese slave labor camps Workers Paradise Re-education Camps?

  32. How much did Exxon give Stanford, again? $500 Million?

    Rufus, we aren't going to go down the ad hom route that you like to go down. Jacobson has been smeared by ethanol proponents plenty, and in fact he addressed that allegation in the link:

    John. M. Simpson, through FTCR, issued a press release on April 26, 2007, stating, in its title, “Stanford University Ethanol Study Tainted by Exxon Mobil Ties”, and in its text, “However, the public cannot accept the results at face value when ExxonMobil has funded a major energy research program a the university and research results are in line with giant oil firm’s corporate goals.” Similarly, in a seminar in April, 2007 at Stanford University, Mr. Vinod Khosla, a venture capitalist with investments in ethanol, claimed publicly that this study was funded by Exxon Mobil.

    This study had absolutely no funding from Exxon Mobil or other company, as stated. Further, the implication that this study was influenced by Exxon Mobil or other oil companies is completely false and contradicted by its conclusions. The study finds that both gasoline and E85 are bad for U.S. health with E85 causing equal or more damage. Since the implication of this study is that both gasoline and E85 should be eliminated in favor of cleaner technologies (e.g., battery-electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles where the electricity for batteries and for hydrogen production by electrolysis is produced by wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, wave, or tidal power), the suggestion that this study was influenced by oil companies is nonsensical.

    In sum, Mr. Simpson, FTCR, and Vinod Khosla were irresponsible in their statements. In the case of FTCR, the statements were intentional smears since Mr. Simpson was informed prior to his press release that there were absolutely no financial or other links between this study and any company. After Mr. Simpson’s press release, he continued the smears in public comments and a newspaper editorial. Mr. Simpson’s statements were untrue.

    RR

  33. Now Rufus, how about we debate the data? I queried Mark because I knew that he would be aware of any measurements on this to compare to his modeling. As I said, it is complicated.

    You can see for yourself that emissions had been dropping long before ethanol came onto the scene, and I am not sure about your point on when they switched to E6. Are you saying that the switch didn't occur when he shows it on the graph and that ozone didn't initially rise? Please explain.

    RR

  34. RR, you state that E6 went into effect in '03. This Article shows it going into effect on Jan 1, 2004.

    Whichever it is, Jacobson draws that line at around July, 2002. That's just wrong. He's being deceptive, just like all the other Greenie-Meanies have been caught being deceptive.

    If he'll go that far I sure can't trust any of his more "nuanced" arguments.

    Personally, I'm not a big fan of all the "Catastrophic Global Warming" silliness, and that's not why I support Ethanol. The fact that it doesn't put Benzene, and some other carcinogens into the air is a plus, but the main reason I support ethanol is it looks as if oil is going to be getting in short supply fairly soon.

    I, also, hate it that we're so dependent on oil from the Mideast that we're in line to fight endless wars there for the right to impoverish ourselves to their benefit.

    As for LA. The Indians called it the "Smokey Valley" a Long time before we built the first car. They'll probably be calling it that a long time after we've left.

  35. Kit P said that in China, 2/3 provide slave labor to the 1/3 that have a better standard of living. So of China's population of 1.3 billion people, 850 million of them are slaves? I don't doubt there are millions of slaves in China and other parts of the world, but 850 million sounds like hyperbole. Got a reference backing up that 2/3 number? No?

    I don't know how reliable this website is, but it claims there are 27 million slaves in the world today, where "slavery" is defined as "forced to work without pay under threat of violence and unable to walk away."
    http://www.freetheslaves.net/Page.aspx?pid=375
    If they were all in China, that would be 2%, or 1/50th of the population. Pretty horrible, but still no where near 2/3rds. Wikipedia lists several estimates, the highest of which is 29.2 million slaves in the world at the end of 2009.

    Calling 2/3rds of China as slave labor would imply a much looser definition which seems to belittle the pain and suffering of true slaves.

    Would you be happier if we called Chinese slave labor camps Workers Paradise Re-education Camps?

    What do the Chinese call them?

  36. rufus wrote: RR, you state that E6 went into effect in '03. This Article shows it going into effect on Jan 1, 2004.

    That made me look for actual numbers. The MTBE ban indeed went into effect Jan 2004, though it was originally going to be 2003 and the refiners geared up for 2003.
    http://www.ethanolproducer.com/article.jsp?article_id=1702

    But the change from MTBE to ethanol actually started happening in 2003. According to the National Highway statistics, the amount of gasohol used in California was
    2 billion gallons in 2002,
    10 billion gallons in 2003,
    16 billion gallons in 2004.
    http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policy/ohim/hs02/mf33e.htm
    http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policy/ohim/hs03/htm/mf33e.htm
    http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policy/ohim/hs03/htm/mf33e.htm
    Looks like the biggest increase was in 2003.

  37. “Now Rufus, how about we debate the data?”

    Looking at Please see Figure 1 ,I must agree with RR that there are too many variables. When I lived in California there would be significance differences year to year in weather. Two of the peaks in the data were very hot summers in the central valley.

    How about not debating it at all?

    The reason for ethanol is to increase domestic production of transportation fuel in a country that does not have a problem with air pollution except in a few places:

    http://www.airnow.gov/

    A grad student ran some simulations. Maybe 7 ppb will cause some locations to exceed standards often and what does that mean? Nothing, being in non-attainment with EPA standards is a political problem. The magnitude of the air quality problem may represent some heath issues but a 7 ppm change is not much of an issue.

    The trend if air quality is encouraging in any case. So is the trend in ethanol production. Two different problems that are independent of each other. Debating data on the color of apples is not very useful for figuring which apples make the best juice.

  38. “sounds like hyperbole”

    You are correct in this case Clee. Of course I was responding to hyperbole.

    It has been at least 5 years since I have looked at data for China coal mining industry when 5000 miners died producing about the same amount of coal as the US when less than 50 deaths occurred. The coal plants that produce electrify for me are clean and efficient while those in China are dirty and inefficient.

    I am sorry Clee that I did not have the foresight to save the links for you. So Clee if you would like find some aspect of China that impresses you, I will either agree with or explain why not.

    Let me start, I would rather live in China than North Korea.

  39. I agree with Kit. 7 ppb is less than trivial. If an ethanol blend helps air quality a little bit, that's good. But, it's NOT the "Main thing."

    Our "Master of Research," Clee has done it again. The Big Move came in 2003. That makes the line that Jacobson drew on the chart in the Middle of 2002 Highly Deceptive.

    If he'll do that, I sure don't trust him on anything else.

  40. Trucking seems to be coming back a bit.

    This would be about the last shoe to drop.

    If we've been drawing down "offshore" storage by A million barrels/day, as it looks like we have, and if OECD inventories are falling about a Million barrels/day, as it seems they have, Then, keept This in mind:

    That's Two Million bpd Supply that will go "offline" in four, or five months. After all, you can only draw your inventories down "so much," before you run into "Minimum Operating Level;" and the "Offshore" will in five months, or so, Be Depleted.

    Take away Two Million bpd Supply, add in a couple of Million Demand from the OECD countries trying to "come out of recession," allow for a steady increase of about 2 Million bpd Demand from China, India, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the "Emerging" markets, and, Bubbas, Things could be real danged "Interestin" by the Fall of 2010.

    That 7 ppb just might be the Last thing on our mind.

  41. Would you be happier if we called Chinese slave labor camps Workers Paradise Re-education Camps?

    Kit's hyperbole of a supposed 2/3rds of China engaged in "slave labor". I think I'd call most of them "farms", which rufus likes to point out in the more productive US, doesn't pay well either, compared with other occupations. Some I'd probably call "sweat shops", some with child labor, which might be only slightly more pleasant that working on a farm, but at least they get pay that can be sent home to families, and they can and do change what factory they work at of their own choice when they hear of better opportunities elsewhere, which means they aren't slaves.

    So there are more deaths at China coal mines than at US mines. That doesn't make mines slave labor camps in China any more than they are in the US. I can't blame workers in China for choosing to work in mines despite the hazards, since that pays much better than farming.

  42. RR,

    It would be interesting to read a post on the Top 10 energy research projects in 09.

    There were alot of press releases and it will be interesting to see what will bear future fruit.

  43. It's a shame the Chinese people don't have unfettered internet access to read Kips and Clee's comments.

    RR,
    Do you think Google China blocks you ?

    I wonder how you could determine this.
    Jim Takchess

  44. I think I'd have to vote for the "Volt."

    Everybody said it wouldn't work, and GM bowed their neck, and did it, anyway.

    It "Could" end up being a "Game Changer."

  45. Do you think Google China blocks you ?

    Jim, I just checked and none of the past 500 viewers have been from China. I don't recall seeing viewers from China, but I have seen them from Taiwan. I am curious now, so I will keep an eye out to see if viewers from China link in.

    They may have blocked Blogger in general, though, because otherwise they would have a very difficult time keeping news suppressed that they don't want the public to learn.

    Cheers, Robert

  46. RR, you state that E6 went into effect in '03.

    I didn't state that. I quoted Mark.

    Whichever it is, Jacobson draws that line at around July, 2002. That's just wrong. He's being deceptive, just like all the other Greenie-Meanies have been caught being deceptive.

    Have you ever thought about sending him a note to ask him why? I tend to do that when I have a question like yours.

    RR

  47. You said You talk to him. Why don't You ask?

    First, I am not making the accusations against him. If I were, I think I would have first checked with him to see if there was a specific reason for putting that line where he did.

    Second, it doesn't change my conclusion, which is that there are too many variables to easily tease out what ethanol actually did. Even if ethanol did cause the spike, it quickly settled right back down and the declines continued. On the other hand, you can't honestly claim that declines are due to ethanol given the trends prior to increasing ethanol.

    Third, all I wanted to know was whether anyone had done any measurements to try to determine what happened as a result of ethanol. I think the answer to that is "No, not really."

    Finally, if I was intending to use that graph to push a point, I would definitely follow up and ask why he drew the line where he did. But given that I think all it really shows is that declines were in place long before ethanol, and they didn't permanently reverse direction in correlation with ethanol, it doesn't matter.

    RR

  48. Actually, I pretty much agree with you, except for This Part:

    Even if ethanol did cause the spike, it quickly settled right back down and the declines continued.

    If the "spike" started in the middle of 2002, then introducing E6 in 2003 could, hardly, have been the "cause."

  49. Everybody said it wouldn't work, and GM bowed their neck, and did it, anyway. It "Could" end up being a "Game Changer."

    Rufus~

    Operative word there is "could." Technically, it will work, but its high price point (~$40k) is going to make it a tough sale, especially when people can buy a Prius in the low to mid $20s.

    With the high price, it was a mistake for GM to brand it as a Chevy. It will be out of reach of much of the Chevy demographic, and the Buick and Caddie demo won't want to be seen in what they perceive as a redneck Chevy.

  50. Trying to convince people to prepay their bill for gasoline for years to come and pay interest on that at car interest rates is a loser.

    Until electric cars are really competitive in the world the consumer lives in they are not going very far.

    İ would love to have one but will İ pay the premium? No way!

  51. rufus wrote: If the "spike" started in the middle of 2002, then introducing E6 in 2003 could, hardly, have been the "cause."

    Uh, there is only one data point (per line going across the graph) for each year. There are no monthly data points, so it is meaningless to say the line is drawn in "July" of 2002. There is no July on the graph. The line is drawn at the data points for the entire year of 2002. The next data points are for the entire year of 2003.

    You could just skip the graph and click on to the tabular source of his data.
    http://www.aqmd.gov/smog/o3trend.html
    There are no monthly data. All the numbers increase from 2002 to 2003. If it were just one series, maybe he could have put a bar graph up instead of a line graph, to make it obvious that each number covers the entire year, January through December, and there is no increase in "July" or "in the middle of 2002".

  52. Clee wrote,

    “So there are more deaths at China coal mines than at US mines.”

    Two orders of magnitude difference is not a just more deaths, it show a callous disregard. Who knows how many just die from lack of medical care?

    “can't blame workers in China for choosing to work in mines despite the hazards”

    I maintain that are not getting paid, they have been relocated to forced labor camps. I have read many local stores about good paying jobs in the coal industry. I would not expect Clee to read about this in his local nanny state rag because they are too busy trying to put people out of work in other states. I do not know if claims by Chinese dissident that are accurate but I will believe before state run communist propaganda.

    I was researching to hazard associated chemical processes using ammonia and nitric acid. There have been some nasty accidents. Could I find lesson that were learned to make the work place safer at our facility?

    “some with child labor”

    My research happened to find multiple examples of of school children being killed when their school blew up. I guest Clee would call turning schools into illegal firework factories just sweat shops?

    We have spent billions removing PCB and asbestos from US schools, I suppose Clee thinks we are missing an opportunity to raise money for marching band uniforms by turning schools into fire work creative studios.

    Clee's logic is like telling your kids it is okay to drink because it is not as bad as meth.

    It is called standards Clee. The US electricity generating industry will produce all the electricity safely and with insignificant environmental impact. I do know that nuke plants built by western countries in China, meet those standards.

    So yes China is improving the quality of like for its people. China is unfortunately still 50 years behind the west. I think it a fair question to ask how much of China's economic power is based on slave labor. Please feel free to define slave labor in the most generous terms and look the other way but I feel comfortable that my government will not restrict by speech.

  53. Kit P wrote: Clee's logic is like telling your kids it is okay to drink because it is not as bad as meth.

    No, that's not my logic. My logic is that even if meth is worse than alcoholic beverages, if you choose to drink meth, that does that mean you are a slave or that someone made you take meth.

    Or perhaps, if stretched, my logic is that if you need water to survive, it's better to drink your own pee, no matter how unpleasant, if fresh water is not available, rather than drink seawater which will not help your thirst.

    I think even with any forced labor camps and mines you found, or illegal fireworks factories in schools, if you actually count them up, there not 2/3rds of the Chinese working as slave labor.

Comments are closed.