GUSHER OF LIES - Book Review and Reply to Robert Bryce Pt. 6
A Book That's Aptly Named for What It Is
By Marc J. Rauch
Exec. Vice President/Co-Publisher
THE AUTO CHANNEL
PRICE OF ETHANOL VS. GASOLINE AT THE PUMP
At the time that Bryce wrote GUSHER OF LIES there was a Federal subsidy in place that allowed the price of E85 to be priced lower than regular gasoline (usually E10). The subsidy, which supposedly showed up as about a 60 cents reduction per gallon, permitted Bryce and others to use the subsidy as an example of how ethanol actually costs more at the pump (if you added the 50 cents to the price of E85 the price would be just about even with regular gasoline). Then if you calculate the supposed difference in MPG between regular gasoline and E85 according to the BTU nonsense discussed earlier, it shows that E85 (ethanol) cost more at the pump.
However, the reason why E85 costs about the same as regular gasoline is because it is ultimately formulated and distributed by the oil industry, and they just won’t sell something that could hurt their normal pricing and profit structure for their oil products. Of course, different states have different regulations and taxes and so the 50 cents I’m referring to may not be the same everywhere. I’m using California as my reference.
A good example of this problem is what is happening right now in Iowa as I write this section. Here’s the story from Ethanol Producer Magazine written by Holly Jesson:
“Linn Co-op Oil Co. and Iowa’s other E15 retailers were recently forced to stop selling E15 because oil refiners won’t supply the gasoline blendstock required for the summer months. “Consumers who want a higher grade ethanol blend, in this case E15, are being denied that choice,” said U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa. Braley was part of a June 3 conference call hosted by the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association that was held to discuss the petroleum distribution monopoly, one of the tools Big Oil is using to block the sale of higher ethanol blends, said Monte Shaw, executive director of IRFA.
In the summer months the U.S. EPA allows E10 to exceed the 9.0 pounds per-square-inch Reid Vapor Pressure requirement by 1 pound from June 1 to Sept. 15 but did not give E15 the same waiver. In order to offer E15 to vehicles model year 2001 and newer, the renewable fuel must be blended with low-volatility gasoline, which is used in markets that require reformulated gasoline. The catch is, although that fuel travels through Iowa via pipeline, E15 retailers are being denied access and therefore must only sell E15 to flex-fuel vehicle drivers or shut down their E15 pumps, as Linn Co-op did. “One of the key things about this is, we’re not asking for something that doesn’t exist,” Shaw said. “The gasoline blendstock we need to make E15 in the summer is available, it flows through the very pipeline system that services Iowa, but they will not let us take it out of the pipeline here.”
Earlier this year, a group of Iowa’s E15 retailers sent a letter, asking oil refiners supplying Iowa to provide the summer gas blendstock required for E15, IRFA said. However, as of June 1, no oil refiner has done so. In the meantime, the necessary blendstock travels through Iowa, on its way to Kansas City and Chicago, where reformulated gas is required due to high smog levels. Retailers in the vicinity of a market that requires reformulated gas can continue to offer E15 by trucking in the blendstock but transportation costs to Iowa make that cost prohibitive, Shaw said.
Oil refiners are using RVP seasonality to block retailers from selling E15 because they don’t want to give up the 5 percent market share, Shaw added. In the meantime, the petroleum industry is attacking the renewable fuels standard (RFS), claiming it can’t scale the 10 percent blend wall because retailers don’t want to sell E15 and consumers don’t want to buy E15. “And that’s simply not true,” he said, adding that recent events actually demonstrate the need for the RFS. “The high profit scenario for Big Oil is almost always not the low cost fuel scenario for consumers,” he said.
Jim Becthold, service manager for Linn Co-op, the first retailer to sell E15 in Iowa, said customers started asking why the station couldn’t sell E15 right after the pumps were bagged. The fuel is more economical, cleaner and higher performing. “Consumers are starting to really demand that, I’m seeing it in my sales,” he said, adding that he hopes the situation will be resolved so the station can again sell E15 in the summer months, at least by next summer.”
At the beginning of 2012 the subsidy ended and anti-ethanol people predicted that E85’s price would rise to be at or higher than regular gasoline. The prices didn’t really change; Even without the subsidy I’m still buying E85 at 50 to 60 cents cheaper than regular and 75 to 90 cents cheaper than premium. When you factor in the real difference in MPG between using gasoline in a gasoline optimized engine and using ethanol in a gasoline-optimized engine - not the theoretical 33% difference, the difference is usually enough to provide a net savings when using the E85.
In other situations, such as those I described earlier in this review, independent service stations who wish to bring in ethanol-gasoline blends other than E10 and E85, like E15, are often blocked by their gasoline vendors from doing it although the vendor doesn’t offer E15 themselves. The reason is, of course, that the vendor doesn’t want to lose sales of their products to another vendor. You can understand this happening in a corporate franchised station, but not stations that are supposed to be independently owner and operated.
Back in the early 1900’s after the passage of the FREE ALCOHOL BILL, which removed the onerous $2+ per gallon tax on the manufacture of alcohol, ethanol sold at about the same price as gasoline, sometimes less. The ethanol could be sold at a competitive price because it is inexpensive to produce. It is still “inexpensive” to produce, although times have obviously changed. If ethanol could be sold directly to the public there’s ultimately no reason why it wouldn’t be priced very competitive to gasoline, even if the price per barrel of oil plunged – that is, as long as the ethanol could be freed from the tether of the oil refiners and gasoline distributors.
Bob Gordon, my business partner at The Auto Channel, and I have long imagined a scenario where local ethanol producers are able to dispense pure ethanol (E100) direct to the consumer at their facilities or at non-traditional filling stations in conjunction with some big box retailers like Home Depot and Loews Hardware (harkening back to the very early days before dedicated service stations when an automobile owner would buy fuel at hardware stores). Similarly, at-home or office deliveries like water and coffee services could open up a whole new category of entrepreneurial opportunities. There are already some fuel services like this that are used to deliver fuel to race teams at smaller tracks. And, of course, roadside assistance services usually carry fuel for those motorists stranded because they ran out of fuel. This business model is incorporated into the business plan of smaller ethanol producers and manufacturers of “community-sized” distillation plants. David Blume’s Blume Distillation is one example.
Although any unconventional ethanol distribution would most likely only offer straight ethanol, not ethanol-gasoline blends, Bob and I can imagine interested consumers would do what I do, and that is pump the desired amount of E85 into the tank of my non-flex fuel Ford Taurus and then pull up to the E10 pump – or go across the street to a cheaper E10 station – and fill the tank the rest of the way. Sure, it requires more time, but to me it’s worth it to save some money and do my part to help make us less dependent on the blood suckers. There’s no question that not everyone would do this. But we believe that there could be a few million patriotic vehicle owners across America that would love to do the same, if they knew they could do it. I think this could be a really, really good grass roots movement that would have wide ranging beneficial effect (not beneficial to the oil companies, but that’s one of the best benefits).
One of the last topics from Bryce’s book that I’ll address in this “short little” book review is the issue of water. To be honest with you (as I have throughout), this one made me laugh. Can you imagine the oil industry and its shills, pretending that they have a concern with water issues? It is the ultimate in hypocrisy. It’s not just Nazi-like double speak, it’s like double speak to the 10th power.
The people who brought us global fresh and salt water disasters, who have killed untold millions of wildlife, who have destroyed untold miles of beautiful beaches; they’re raising a red flag warning about the water requirements to produce ethanol.
But I’m glad that Bryce did this because this may be the single best example of the advances that have been made in ethanol production.
The premise is this: Ethanol requires water, not just in the actual distillation process, but in the growing of the crops that are used to make the mash that gets fermented and then distilled. It’s true; water is required for these tasks. Bryce cites various studies that reveal the enormous amount of water required. He then uses various voodoo equations to paint a picture that would show the Earth turning into the desert planet Arrakis from Frank Herbert’s “Dune Saga.”
As expected, Bryce foresees absolutely no circumstances in which the “Dune Saga” scenario wouldn’t happen. He doesn’t consider that desalination plants could mitigate the problem, he doesn’t consider any wild-eyed ideas like towing giant icebergs from the Arctic or Antarctic regions and using them as water sources, and since he doesn’t believe in man-made global warming he would never see the iceberg solution as being something that could mitigate the rising seas issue. Of course, as I stated earlier, I don’t believe in man-made global warming either, but at least I have vision – remember I was able to visualize having Internet connectivity faster than 28.8k even though some expert in the industry told me it was impossible.
Be that as it may, let me simply respond to Bryce’s water problem with the following information from POET ETHANOL, the largest producer of ethanol in America:
“The first plant that POET purchased took in 17 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol in 1987. Today, POET averages less than 3 gallons of water, an 80 percent reduction from where it started. But we're not done yet.
POET believes that water is a precious resource and is committed to using as little of it as possible in our ethanol production process. So we have set a goal, to be attained by 2014, of decreasing the overall annual water intake at our plants 22% by targeting an average usage rate of 2.33 gallons of water taken in per gallon of ethanol produced. This will reduce our total annual water use by one billion gallons based on POET's 2009 production capacity of 1.5 billion gallons of ethanol.
POET engineers have invented a new way for its facilities to use water which results in a decreased intake with a reasonable economic payback. Named Total Water Recovery, it ensures that our facilities don't have to choose between profit and planet. As of December 2011, 18 POET plants had installed Total Water Recovery.
Most of the lifecycle water used in ethanol production is for growing the feedstock. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, almost all of that is from rainfall as less than 5 percent of corn used for ethanol production is irrigated. Still, water requirements of the feedstock represent the vast majority of the total lifecycle water use for ethanol production. POET is working with our feedstock producers to understand the amount of irrigated corn coming into our facilities in order to identify opportunities to collaborate for additional water conservation.
With many parts of the world facing water shortages, water conservation has become a global priority. That's why POET chose reducing our water usage at the first Ingreenuity™ goal. As of December 2011, we had cut water use by approximately 770 million gallons.”
To support Poet’s comments, consider these comments made in 2011 by Forrest Jehlik, Research Engineer at Argonne National Laboratory:
The amount of water used to make ethanol has declined dramatically. Today, producing one gallon of ethanol requires about 3.5 gallons of water. That’s a little more than it takes to process a gallon of gasoline. Much of the criticism about ethanol’s water requirements stem from the need to irrigate feedstock crops in drier climates. But most ethanol is produced from rain-fed crops grown in the Midwest.
In addition, ethanol is not carcinogenic and doesn’t poison groundwater or the ocean. Ethanol rapidly biodegrades. Concerns over ethanol spills are muted by ethanol’s low toxicity. In fact, you’ll find ethanol in beer, bourbon and other happy-hour beverages you’ve probably consumed.
Water advancements are possible, they have been made, and they will undoubtedly continue. However, the key item I would like to point out to you in Mr. Jehlik’s comments is the part, “Today, producing one gallon of ethanol requires about 3.5 gallons of water. That’s a little more than it takes to process a gallon of gasoline.” Yes, it also requires lots of water to make gasoline, but Bryce would never think of telling that to his readers.
COMPRESSED NATURAL GAS
I like CNG; Bob Gordon likes CNG. We’ve written about it and talked it up for several years. We’ve noted in several stories how even oil rich Iran is relying on CNG for their domestic energy needs. What’s more, a couple of years before I purchased the non-flex fuel Ford Taurus that I use with various ethanol-gasoline blends I bought a CNG-powered 2001 Dodge Ram 1500 van. I wanted a Honda Civic CNG car but couldn’t get one, so I went online and found the van (I’ll tell you more about why I couldn’t get the Honda in a minute).
I wanted a CNG vehicle for the same reason I bought the Taurus, I wanted to do my own testing. I wanted to see if the good things I heard about CNG were correct, and I wanted to see if the negative things I heard about CNG were correct. As I mentioned a few times already, I like having first hand knowledge about stuff when it’s possible.
Funnily enough, many of the negative things I heard about CNG paralleled the negative comments made about ethanol: Less energy content (the BTU nonsense), too many government subsidies, filling station availability is very limited, it causes more pollution than gasoline, and it damages engines. Guess who spread these rumors? Yes, the oil industry. They concocted a few others, such as that it takes too long to fill the vehicle (we’ve had people write to us saying that they heard it could take 30-minutes or longer to fill a CNG car at a commercial station).
Going back some years ago, before the oil industry realized there was big money to be made by pushing CNG they were frightened by it the same way they are about ethanol. To stave off government pressure the oil industry invented the Natural Gas Vehicle Association (NGVA) to pretend like they were exploring alternative fuels. At the same time, the oil industry PR people started to attach the negative comments mentioned above to CNG to play both ends against the middle. In time, NGVA moved out of the API office building to give it a little more distance, and Richard Kolodziej, the association’s president, was given enough room to operate like he meant it – and I think he does a pretty good job at it although I wish he was fully independent. Unfortunately, the oil lobby never called off their PR dogs until rather recently, so the lies about CNG continued and festered.
I can tell you from personal experience that all the negative comments are lies. The issue over energy content is wrong (BTUs is just as irrelevant with CNG as with ethanol). An engine optimized to run on CNG will get the same mileage as if it was gasoline-optimized and using gasoline. So my van gets virtually the same MPG it would if I had purchased the gasoline-powered version. The price of a “gallon” of CNG can be considerably less than gasoline; in some facilities the CNG cost a bit more than half the price of gasoline. The CNG keeps the engine cleaner and the emissions are cleaner than those that would come from gasoline.
CNG does not damage engines any more than ethanol does, and both of them are better for an internal combustion engine than gasoline. CNG, like ethanol does not cause engine knocking.
There is however one great big glaring problem with CNG (there are a few “small” ones too, which I’ll address shortly). This big problem is that CNG is controlled by the oil industry. This means that no matter what, if we rely on CNG we will be screwed blue and tattooed by the exact same people that are keeping our economy in chains. It is this connection that has soured me on CNG. I still love and use my van, and I always enjoy saving money every time I have to fill the van up, but CNG is not the solution we need.
When Robert Bryce wrote GUSHER OF LIES he obviously hadn’t yet received the memo from the oil gods that CNG was good, after all. Although it has been known for many years that the U.S. and Canada has tremendous reserves of natural gas, Bryce writes about dwindling Canadian and America resources and foresees America becoming a major importer of natural gas. He uses the expectation of our becoming a CNG importer to again argue that it’s not worth struggling for energy independence; that we should just give in to the inevitable.
Somewhere around 2010 Robert Bryce must have re-checked his email and found the “CNG is OK” memo because that’s when he started to write about America’s huge natural gas resources. This is around the time that the oil industry started looking for large scale government aid to help them develop the “suddenly” discovered domestic reserves. The government aid that the oil industry is seeking is subsidies in various forms. So once again, because the subsidies would be for the oil industry the subsidies are okay. In his most recent writing about natural gas and CNG that I came across I wasn’t able to find any criticism related to any type of subsidy for natural gas and CNG.
One other thing, before I forget, remember in the last section regarding water usage how Bryce decries the "heavy" water needs of ethanol, and the part about how much water is needed to make gasoline? Well, fracking also requires huge amounts of water, and some of the fracking is taking place in areas where water is particularly scarce. Of course Bryce never mentions this; like with all the other hypocritical positions that Bryce takes, it's suddenly okay to "waste" water because it is for the benefit of the oil industry.
So here we are, it’s 2013 and the oil industry and its shills are hyping the heck out of CNG. Now they’re even talking about America becoming an exporter of natural gas and CNG. So armed with this enthusiasm the oil industry wants to frack here, frack there, frack everywhere. Simply put, they are fracking crazy (pun definitely intended).
There’s a lot of bad publicity about the fracking process. Some say it’s very harmful to ground water, lakes, ponds, and reservoirs; and some like Boone Pickens says that there has never been a confirmed fracking disaster. I’ve never done any fracking (he, he, he), so I have no personal experience.
However, here are the problems I do have with CNG above and beyond the fact that it’s controlled by the oil industry: First, there is only one automobile maker that is building a CNG-powered car for the American market. That company is Honda. The CNG car they make is the Civic GX and for several years their entire annual production was about 1,000 to 1,500 cars (the GX designation has since been dropped and it’s just Civic CNG). This small number of cars is more like the output we would expect for a hand-built non-assembly line car. It’s almost not worth calling it a “production run.” This very small availability was why I couldn’t buy a Honda Civic. I had the Honda PR people looking for a car for me but none were available. And I was buying the car, not looking to trade one for a favorable review.
Then, just a couple of years ago, all Civic GX production stopped while Honda was building a new factory in Indiana. Honda lost about a year in building new CNG Civics. In 2012, Honda upped Civic CNG production to around 3,000 cars, but then stopped production in 2013 because they still have too many 2012 models available.
The Civic is a great car. It’s generally inexpensive, it drives very nicely, it looks good, and it is a Honda – so you know you can rely on it. However, the Civic is small-ish, which means that it doesn’t have much room for the over-sized CNG tanks (they’re located in the trunk). This is one of the more unlikely vehicles that Honda should have chosen from their lineup for CNG production. So what we have is one passenger vehicle made for the American market and its availability is close to none, when it’s being built. On top of that, because of the CNG tanks it has very limited cargo room.
Other than Dodge having announced production of a hybrid CNG-gasoline Ram pick up truck and a very small run of CNG vans that GM built under special order last year that’s it in the way of CNG vehicles. There was a time 10+ years ago when Ford, Chrysler and GM were building several CNG models, but that was just really for show to get carbon credits and other brown-nosing points from Congress.
So if the oil industry went ahead with fracking and the U.S. produced all this CNG, what would we do with it? CNG and natural gas is already used in millions and millions of American homes for heating, and there’s no gas shortage to be overcome. The new home market has been dead for a few years and it’s just barely breathing now.
There’s no talk of any great spurt in CNG filling stations, so even if there were more CNG cars produced there would be a fueling station availability problem.
We do have a couple hundred million passenger vehicles on the road that could be converted, but aftermarket engine conversion is terribly expensive (roughly $10,000) and limited to just a few models. The cost and the restrictions are because of EPA regulations. The funny part is that these regulations exist due to oil lobbying to make it difficult for vehicle owners to convert from gasoline. So while the oil industry is up-in-arms against the EPA for the E15 waiver, they were thrilled with the EPA action on CNG conversions. To make matters worse, if you live in California and you have the money and the right model vehicle, California Air Resources Board (CARB) won’t allow you to make the conversion. If you buy a CNG-converted vehicle outside of the state and bring it into California CARB won’t allow you to register it.
So again, what would we do with all the natural gas and CNG from all the new fracking?
Ah, the oil industry lackeys say, “We’ll export it and make a profit.” Okay, but who are they going to export it to? Canada doesn’t need it. Mexico doesn’t need it. Venezuela and its friends down south don’t need it. Brazil doesn’t need it. China and Russia have their own vast supplies of natural gas, and Russia has oil, too. So then where, Western Europe? Why buy the U.S. gas; Israel (and Lebanon and Cyprus by proximity) discovered huge natural gas reserves and has already started bringing the gas up. It’s cheaper for Western Europe to import the gas from Israel or Lebanon or Cyprus.
In short, there’s no market for an increased supply of American natural gas and CNG. All that will happen is that the government will give billions to the oil industry, it will be just another diversion like electric cars, and we will have wasted valuable time and money that should be spent on getting rid of our dependence on fossil fuels.
Let me put it as succinctly as I can: No fracking way!
The 1800’s was a milestone in human existence because it was the century of freedom: social, national and economic. All the social awakenings that were triggered by European renaissance a couple of centuries earlier came to life with American independence followed by the French struggles to find their own brand of independence from autocratic rule, then the unification of disparate Italian and German states into cohesive nations, and the abolition of slavery in the western world. These factors combined with the burgeoning age of machines to allow common people to go forth on their own. Millions left the reasonable comfort of familiar surroundings to journey thousands of miles away in search of a better life.
The invention of the automobile was the crowning achievement in the age of machinery because individuals could range further and longer at a moments notice. It personalized the spirit of freedom and independence.
The automobile wasn’t invented because of any particular liquid or solid fuel; it was invented by the fuel of hope and imagination. Automobiles allowed people to move out of crowded festering cities. It allowed people to travel every day to work in locations that just a short time before were considered a week’s journey away. It allowed every strata of the public to shop, to play, to visit, to spend money, which allowed others to earn money so that they can spend and buy, too, which repeated the cycle over and over. The automobile engendered powered human flight and personal power boating; it was the great catalyst. The automobile, not its fuel source, was the ultimate expression of freedom.
Then we lost our way. People don’t aspire to use a prettier fuel, or a faster fuel, or a more luxurious fuel. The machine is the key; the fuel is just a minor element. Sure, without fuel the automobile won’t run, but an automobile also won’t run without a spark plug. However we don’t fight wars over spark plugs. Spark plug manufacturers aren’t paying terrorists to hijack airplanes.
Shockingly, more people today are basing their automobile purchasing decisions on fuel economy rather than the criteria that is really important: Hard top or convertible, 2-doors or 4-doors or 5-doors, with or without GPS navigation, business or pleasure, how many seats, what color; these are the decisions that are important. It’s a world gone mad; a world turned upside down; our freedom to come and go as we please has been greatly compromised. We would all laugh if someone said he purchased one vehicle over another because spark plug A had a longer life than spark plug B. This is essentially what has happened with fuel, more correctly and precisely with gasoline fuel, but it’s not a laughing matter.
There are people who are not going on job interviews because they can’t afford the gasoline. There are people who are turning down educational opportunities because they can’t afford the gasoline to travel to schools. The freedom that the automobile gave us is now limited by a rather insignificant element controlled by regimes who don’t even respect their own fellow countrymen and coreligionists; how will they ever respect us?
The great truth that the oil industry and people like Robert Bryce have been desperately working to squelch is that there is another fuel that can do the job. Another fuel that can cost less, that is more environmentally friendly, and can be produced within our borders by our own citizens. And it is available right now. That fuel is ethanol.
Moreover, the great preponderance of the passenger vehicles on our roads can use high quantities of ethanol immediately without any conversions or adjustments done to its engines. This is a remarkable technological feat. It’s akin to saying that you can take a music DVD and insert it into a cassette tape player and hear the music. You can’t put diesel in a gasoline engine and expect it to work. You can’t put CNG in a gasoline engine and expect it to work. You can’t put milk in a gasoline engine and expect it to work. But you can put ethanol in your gasoline engine and it will work, and it will perform almost as if it was gasoline. The only real difference is that the ethanol will cost less and be better for the environment. Oh yeah, and then we won’t have the need to fight quite so many wars.
Even if ethanol was not as economical, and even if ethanol in any blend level did create engine damage, the answer is not to abandon ethanol; the answer is to immediately mandate that all applicable new passenger vehicles and light trucks to be sold in America be built with engines that are optimized to run on ethanol (not gasoline).
Fortunately, ethanol is at least as economical as gasoline and it doesn’t cause the mechanical problems alleged by the oil industry and its shills, so there’s no reason to not make it our primary engine fuel. When and if electric passenger vehicles are finally ready to play their part as a viable alternative to internal combustion powered vehicles we (or our grandchildren) should welcome them. But until then we must be free from the yoke of foreign fossil fuels, which means all fossil fuels.
The lies disseminated by the oil industry with the help of Robert Bryce, David Pimentell, Tad Patzek, Jerry Taylor, Tim Searchinger, David Fridley, Richard Rahn, Mark Mills and others like them are tantamount to slave chains. America must break free from those bonds for our economic health and social well being. This is also true for all other nations; not because it’s “the American thing to do,” but because they need their own economic security. Ethanol can be made anywhere by anybody from a very wide variety of raw materials. It is the freedom fuel.
Let freedom ring throughout America, again.
First, thanks for reading this article, I hope you found it eye-opening
Second, there are no footnotes, per se, because this is the Internet. If you have any question about my sources all you have to do is google the word, phrase, concept or event and you will instantly find more information then you ever thought possible. Undoubtedly you find some of the exact sources that I have used at one time or another and you'll probably discover even more. If you find that I left something out, or got something wrong, or think that I took something out of context please do not hesitate to let me know. Send the email to email@example.com.
If you believe that Robert Bryce is incorrect or if you agree with him let him know directly. He hasn't given me permission to give out his email (I didn't ask for it) so you'll have to dig up his contact information on your own.