The GOP’s Oil Drilling Pipe Dream

March 15th, 2011 at 7:35 am | 41 Comments |

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Here we go again. Every time gasoline prices spike, order no matter the reason, order Republican leaders and talk radio’s libertarian elite reach for the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) latest talking points and crank up the “drill, baby, drill” rhetoric.

The current uptick in the price at the pump is not actually due to a supply crunch. It is due to market speculation that current turmoil in the Middle East will spread and lead to supply problems.

The notion that the U.S., which sits atop less than 3 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves, can drill enough oil to drive down prices if the flow is interrupted from a region with 64 percent of the world’s reserves is a pipedream.

Over the past week a steady stream of Republicans, including Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (KY), House Speaker John Boehner, and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI), have taken to the airwaves to complain that the Administration’s cautious approach to domestic oil drilling has caused this problem.

They are calling on the Administration to tap our nation’s “vast” oil reserves. Vast?

Upton even went so far as to say that high energy prices caused the recession and that the Administration’s cautious approach to domestic drilling will lead to a 1970s style oil crisis.

They all neglect to mention that the U.S. is already disproportionately depleting its scant 3 percent reserves to produce 8 percent of current global production. To get that 8 percent we currently have over 530,000 active wells. Saudi Arabia, by comparison, pulls out more oil with roughly 1,500 wells.

The map below depicts the real problem by sizing countries based on the amount of proven oil reserves they contain.

The GOP’s real energy crisis is one of focus. Republican leaders are focusing their energy on keeping America overly dependent on a resource that is far more plentiful outside our own borders. They largely dismiss the strategy of reducing demand and seem content to have us suck our own limited oil reserves dry as quickly as possible. It is a phony solution that they think will play well politically.

Peddling geologic ignorance may score some points with voters who don’t know any better, but it won’t bring the promised relief at the pump.

Their energy would be better focused on real solutions, such as diversifying our fuel choices, making automobiles go further on a gallon of gas, and finding other innovative ways to use less oil.

Of course it is difficult to offer real solutions when politics trumps reality.

The latest political sleight of hand by GOP leaders is to connect the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) effort to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants with the spike in gas prices.

Taking his cues from Upton, who is trying to pass his legislation to block EPA, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) said:

If the White House has its way — and the EPA imposes a backdoor national energy tax — gas prices will only go higher.

Someone might want to inform the Speaker that the gasoline Americans buy at the pump is made from oil, not coal.

Recent Posts by David Jenkins

41 Comments so far ↓

  • sinz54

    Mr. Jenkins omitted oil from oil shale.

    The U.S. has vast reserves of such oil (estimated at TRILLIONS of barrels).

    We don’t extract it due to Government environmental regulations:

    Posted: Friday , 11 Apr 2008

    RENO, NV –

    Two Texas congressmen Thursday introduced legislation to repeal section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), which prohibits federal agencies from contracting to buy coal-based fuels, and fuels from coal-to-liquids, oil shale and tar sands.

    The U.S. Air Force and the Canadian government are both pushing for an exception to section 526, which was placed in EISA by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, who is also the Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

    In a letter to Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-New Mexico, Waxman said his provision “ensures that federal agencies are not spending taxpayer dollars on new fuel sources that will exacerbate global warming. It was included in the legislation in response to proposals under consideration by the Air Force to develop coal-to-liquids fuels. As you may know, coal-to-liquid fuels are estimated to produce almost double the greenhouse gas emissions of the comparable conventional fuel.”

    If it were not for such regulations, a vigorous oil shale industry might result (like the one China already has). Competition would produce improvements in technology and efficiency, eventually driving down the price and reducing the greenhouse gas emission footprint.

    But that won’t happen as long as we leave oil from oil shale in the ground.

    It’s typical of how liberals approach any problem, whether it’s pollution or global warming or anything else. The first thing that they think about, is what can they ban or restrict. Bans and restrictions are what they live for.

    • Carney

      Conservatives used to be the ones who rubbed liberals’ faces in unpleasant facts (such as about welfare, crime, taxes, unequal IQ, and the Soviet threat). Now we’re the ones engaged in fact-free wishful / magical thinking, ignoring reality.

      Oil shale is cripplingly expensive to extract. To make it viable needs (gasp) government subsidies, forever. Any reduction in extraction costs benefits the Saudis just as much as us, leaving them still in control.

      Meanwhile, during the 2007-2008 oil price run-up, when gasoline was pushing $4 a gallon, methanol was selling unsubsidized for only 90 cents. Since it takes two gallons of methanol to move the same distance, count that as $1.80 per gasoline-gallon-equivalent; still a bargain. Lots of families would be happy to fill up every weekend on methanol instead of every other on gasoline if they could slash their fuel bills that much.

      Conservatives need to shed their false belief that oil is American and free market. It’s neither. Oil is permanently and unfixably dominated by foreigners. And the vast majority of it is controlled by state-socialist government monopoly oil sectors, that produce not in accordance with market demand but government fiat, deliberately under-producing so as to artificially increase the price in a huge “tax” on the rest of the world, including us. They then use OUR money to loll in luxury, brutally repress dissent, propagate pro-terrorist extremism, and directly fund and arm terrorists at war with us. OIL DOES NOT DESERVE YOUR LOYALTY; AMERICA DOES.

    • armstp


      If it was only so simple. Typical Republican. You see everything so black and white. It is all about the cost of extraction. Sure we could get oil from the moon, but if it cost $200 a barrel to extract then those reserves are meaningless.

      We have know about those shale deposit for over 100 years. Why do you think we have not extracted them?

      The production cost per barrel for shale can be as high as $95 a barrel.

      “The industry is proceeding cautiously, due to the losses incurred during the last major investment into oil shale in the early 1980s, when a subsequent collapse in the oil price left the projects uneconomical.”

      “A critical measure of the viability of oil shale is the ratio of energy used to produce the oil, compared to the energy returned (Energy Returned on Energy Invested – EROEI). This is because the extraction process is energy intensive, and so the increased cost of oil, or energy generally, will raise the cost of extracting oil from shale oil. “

      Also, the amount of water required also makes extraction costly, not only in dollars, but in environmental costs. And the overall environmental costs can be quite high. Fracking is also turning out to be a bit of a disaster.

      It gets tiring continually having to school you conservatives all the time. Why can’t you conservatives actually use your head every once in a while? It is always about your emotional reptilian hatred of “liberals” or anyone who thinks different then you do or your obsession with power and money. It is rarely ever about logic and fact with “conservatives”, whatever “conservative” means. Conservative in my mind means moron.

      • balconesfault

        Also, the amount of water required also makes extraction costly, not only in dollars, but in environmental costs.

        And consider where the US shale deposits lie. They’re concentrated in an area of northwest Colorado, northeast Utah, and southern Wyoming.

        Sure. There’s just millions of acre feet of extra unallocated water sitting around out there for fracking purposes.

  • Carney

    Not only is the US share of world oil reserves miniscule (3% at most depending on your source, COUNTING Arctic and offshore), but OPEC dominates oil far more than its 78% share would suggest.

    OPEC has all or nearly all the world’s light sweet crude, which is far more desirable in the market, compared with our heavy sour.

    OPEC’s extraction costs are much lower than ours. The Saudis’ extraction costs are about a tenth of ours.

    Now consider that we account for about about one fourth of world oil consumption, and 40% of that oil we consume is “domestic”. So even with the green-imposed drilling restrictions that so vex conservatives, we are disproportionately racing through what little oil we have as the great greedy miser OPEC carefully hoards its huge stash. If we drop all restrictions, we’ll just burn through what little we have even faster.

    As an example, ANWR has about 16 billion gallons; we import 5 billion a year, so if we replace imports with ANWR we’ll exhaust ANWR in less than one presidential term. The most wildly optimistic estimates for the Bakken Formation give it about 24 billion barrels; most give it less than 5. Obviously in neither case can it help ups f or m ore than a few years either.

    And once we do go through them (at great expense and a non-zero risk of another Gulf style disaster), we’ll be utterly helpless.

    Even until that time, “domestic” oil doesn’t even partially help. Every barrel of “domestic” oil that gets bought and used is removed from the virtual big pool of oil that’s available to the world oil market; shrinking that pool and making the remainder scarcer enables our enemies to charge that much more for the oil they sell.

    So “drill baby drill” is a non-solution. We have to use something other than oil.

    Oil is no longer used much for electricity production (only 3% of our power plants use oil, down from nearly 20% in the 1970s). So the real oil issue is transportation fuel.

    The problem there is that the vast majority our cars are unnecessarily “locked in” to only being able to use oil-derived fuel to move. But it would take only a minor upgrade, costing automakers $130 per new car at the factory, to add compatibility with other liquid fuels based on various alcohols, such as methanol, ethanol, propanol, and butanol.

    Ethanol is best-known, and made from sugary/starchy plant matter (withOUT harming the food supply since most of our farmland is not even cultivated and production of food corn and other staple crops has risen even while ethanol corn production has increased tenfold).

    Methanol can be made from natural gas, coal, or any biomass at all, including crop residues, fast-regrowing plants, weeds, even trash and sewage.

    We should just make full “flex fuel” capability a required standard feature in all new cars going forward. The cost is miniscule and the economic and national security benefits immense. We can’t wait decades for the market to make this a standard on its own; we are at war and oil funds the enemy.

    See the book “Energy Victory” by Dr. Robert Zubrin

    Or see his talk at Authors@Google:

    • Watusie

      “Ethanol is best-known, and made from sugary/starchy plant matter (withOUT harming the food supply since most of our farmland is not even cultivated and production of food corn and other staple crops has risen even while ethanol corn production has increased tenfold).”

      I call bullshit.

      “Most of our farmland is not even cultivated”? Absolutely rubbish. Obviously, you’ve never been, known, or even met a farmer.

      The only hope these guys have of paying for their $250,000 tractors and combines is to get control of and use every scrap of land they can. You really would not believe the frenzy that kicks in in the midwest when an old farmer dies and his heirs announce they are going to sell the farm. It makes the Filene’s bridal gown sale look like high tea in comparison.

      In a farming area, except for the most marginally productive land, everything is already either under the plow, under the hoof, or under a house.

      The Conservation Resource Program does have about 35 million acres under contract. But the reason why is: (a) the farmer found this land was the least productive of all that he owned; and (b) the USDA found that it was environmentally sensitive. That land can’t be put back into use without damage to the environment in the form of soil erosion, harmful run-offs, and loss of wildlife habitat and biodiversity. And, incidentally, 35 million acres = less than 4% of the total farmland in this country.

      You would probably be better off knocking down all the hideous McMansion tracts built during Bush’s bubble and returning that acreage to farmland.

      There simply are no great reserves of fields that are sitting idle. If someone claims that there are, their argument is based on either: (a) converting pasture land to crop land – something which doesn’t work, becasue the reason it is pastureland in the first place is becasue it is too unproductive to bear a crop; or (b) the idea that forests and whatnot can be converted to farmland at the expense of the ecological function it currently preforms. There is NOTHING in stasis waiting to be planted.

      • Carney

        Ah yes, anecdotal evidence and barnyard epithets. Thanks for contributing to the discussion, as best, it seems, as you can.

        Obviously, you’ve never been, known, or even met a farmer.

        More typical Watusie personal attacks. I’d love to introduce you to some of my other critics who constantly accuse me of being a corn farmer, since, “obviously,” that’s the only reason anyone could be an ethanol advocate. The debate between you and them would be amusing.

        “In the last five years, despite the nearly threefold growth of the corn ethanol industry—actually, because of it—the amount of corn grown in the United States has vastly increased. The U.S. corn crop grew by 45 percent, the production of distillers grain (a high-value animal feed made from the protein saved from the corn used for ethanol) quadrupled, and the net U.S. corn production of food for humans and feed for animals increased 34 percent.

        “Contrary to claims that farmers have cut other crops to grow more corn, U.S. soybean plantings this year are expected to be up 18 percent and wheat plantings up 6 percent. U.S. farm exports are up 23 percent over last year. America is clearly doing its share in feeding the world.

        “At bottom, the entire food versus fuel argument boils down to a Malthusian conceit—that there is only so much that can be grown, so if we grow more of one thing, we must necessarily grow less of something else. But this is simply false. Agriculture is not a zero-sum game. As illustrated in the bar chart below, there are roughly 2,250 million acres of land in the continental United States. About 1,600 million of those acres are arable. Roughly half of that land (800 million acres) is farmland, but only about a third of that (280 million acres) is actually being cultivated. Only about 85 million of those farm acres are presently growing corn, and just a fifth of that land—about 17 million acres—is growing corn that becomes ethanol. In short, there is plenty of farmland in the United States that could be used to grow more corn—or more of the other staple crops needed to meet domestic or international demand. Even more importantly, agricultural technology is constantly advancing. U.S. corn yields per acre have risen 17 percent since 2002, and the state of Iowa alone today produces more corn than the entire nation did in the 1940s. Applied globally, such improved techniques can multiply world agricultural yields many times. In fact, they have risen by a factor of six since 1930—which is why, even though the world’s population has tripled since that time, there is a lot more food for everyone today.

        “So while it is true that there is now much more corn being used for ethanol than ever before, there is also much more total corn than ever before, including much more for food and feed than ever before, and still plenty of land, and room for implementation of improved methods to grow yet more.”

        • Watusie

          Nice chart, Carney. I also could make up one to illustrate any point I wanted so long as it did not have to indicate what the source of its “data” is.

          “Arable land” does not equal farmland that is not cultivated; and “farmland” does not equal land that could be cultivated. And it CERTAINLY does not mean land that can grow ethanol crops without massive irrigation, fertilizer and pesticide use, with all of their environmental impacts.

          Go to Iowa and find some ground that could grow corn but currently isn’t.

        • Carney

          Ethanol corn is not irrigated.

          For the chart in question, the book “Energy Victory” cites the National Corn Growers Association and USDA, specifically the Economic Research Service website, accessed Sept. 9, 2008. Looks to me as if he put the chart together himself using data that was in non user friendly form. I agree the lack of a specific page URL is sub-optimal; most of Zubrin’s other web footnotes have them. Still, everything else I’ve ever seen him write checks out, including his specific criticisms of other papers and studies.

          Complaints about the environmental impact of modern agriculture ignore context and alternatives. The use of GMO’s, fertilizers, etc. serve to enhance per-acre crop yields and minimize resource consumption and impacts.

          The impact of oil is far greater and more negative on an environmental basis alone.

          Add in the economic and strategic effects, and it becomes hair on fire imperative to make the transition to alcohol fuel.

  • armstp

    One interesting statistic it that over the last ten years the amount of oil being bought by oil speculators/investors has increased by exactly the same amount as demand has in China. So, although there are fundamentals at work here in terms of greater demand from China driving up the price of oil, at least equally so oil speculators/investors have had just as much of an impact on the price of oil. I would say this short-term volatility is clearly been driven entirely by oil speculators.

    • Watusie

      I agree, armstp – and will add that this yet another example of how the free market works in reality. Because those “speculators” are simply free marketeers to the nth degree.


    Interesting article and comments so far.
    I wonder if there is any form of increased production/extraction Mr. Jenkins would sign on to. I am skeptical about the benefits of ethanol or methanol as a fuel source for automobiles. I don’t know how effective they are in reducing auto emissions and I am not sure if they are unnecessarily harmful to auto engines or not. Still, I don’t want to rule it out entirely. I am fascinated by the prospect of having vehicles run on natural gas or propane and have wondered what it would take to make it viable and more widespread. I am also not opposed to increasing how efficiently energy is used. Our cars now are far more efficient with gas than say 30 years ago. Greater conservation efforts should always be looked at and used when viable (think greater amounts of telecommuting for starters). I just don’t expect conservation to make that much difference in the grand scheme of things. I think cars running on other forms of fuel are in the not-to-distant future, but to get us there, we really should look to maximize what we have now in terms of petroleum extraction and refining to not only get us there but add jobs and revenue as well.

    • Carney

      I don’t know how effective they are in reducing auto emissions

      They are dramatically better in many ways.

      Unlike gasoline, alcohol fuel burns without smoke, soot, or particulate matter, the cause of smog. (In fact with the rise of ethanol firemen have had to be retrained not to presume that crashed cars with no smoke are not on fire.) This is huge by itself – smog not only blights the skies of major cities like L.A. and Houston but kills 40,000 Americans annually, according to the EPA under George W. Bush.

      Unlike gasoline, alcohol burns with no sulfur, the cause of acid rain.

      Alcohol emits significantly less NOx, the cause of ozone smog and other problems. These problems come from NOx reacting in the air to the fuel in vapor form – fuel vapor that comes either from the tailpipe from imperfect combustion, or from the filling station from leaks during refueling. Alcohol vapor is less than a tenth as reactive to airborne NOx as gasoline vapor. Also, alcohol vapor is washed out of the air by rainfall, unlike gasoline vapor.

      Oil and water do not mix. Spilled crude oil remains concentrated and toxic. But as any bartender can tell you, alcohol dissolves easily and completely in water. Spilled alcohol fuel dissolves away to nothing in our vast hydrosphere, and is broken down into harmless components by naturally occurring bacteria.

      On CO2, I’m not going to say that ethanol, on its own, solves global warming or is carbon neutral. But using it instead of gasoline is a big step in the right direction if CO2 is your main concern.

      In a sense, oil is carbon that has been sequestered away from the atmosphere already for us deep underground and would have remained there for essentially forever in human terms if we had not drilled and refined it and burned that CO2 into the atmosphere.

      The carbon in ethanol by contrast is already part of the current biosphere, part of the current carbon cycle, and would have returned to the atmosphere on its own accord regardless of our actions. It may well be true that ethanol speeds the natural replenishment process somewhat, but that could be slowed down later, and that’s very different thing from permanently adding to the grand total of carbon in the system as gasoline does.

      Accordingly if we all shifted to ethanol or bio-methanol, we’d buy ourselves a great deal more time by in effect slowing down the process of adding carbon dioxide to the air significantly.

      and I am not sure if they are unnecessarily harmful to auto engines or not.

      They’re not at all in flex fuel vehicles – cars that were engineered with alcohol fuel compatibility in mind. Even “gasoline only” cars made in the last decade or so use improved materials for the fuel line, seals, and so on and thus avoid the corrosion problems that antiques would have with ethanol. It’s just that “gasoline only” cars don’t have the exhaust sniffer and electronic fuel injection programming to adjust the fuel/air mix on the fly if the mix is too rich or thin (alcohol fuel requires a richer mix).

    • John

      i’ve heard conflicting reports about the benefits of ethanol and methanol and i just read something (though i can’t remember where, maybe the times?) about the impact on global food production. what about hydrogen? aren’t they using that with some success in CA? its not my area of expertise, but i think Jenkins is saying that increased domestic extraction would have no impact on the price of oil (which makes sense, since its a commodity) and could actually weaken whatever little bit of leverage we have over OPEC and other major oil exporters.
      like you i look forward to the (hopefully near-) future when our cars are burning something other than oil, but i tend to agree with Jenkins that drilling in Alaska in an effort to get cheaper gas at the pump is short-sighted and would probably be ineffective.

    • Carney

      I am fascinated by the prospect of having vehicles run on natural gas or propane and have wondered what it would take to make it viable and more widespread.

      It would take a lot more effort than is worthwhile. In order to be useful as vehicle fuel, gases such as natural gas (methane), ethane, propane, and butane require energetically expensive cryogenic refrigeration, or compression to a point that can burst a fuel tank, requiring tanks that to be extra strong are very heavy (thus energy-wasting dead weight) and in simple shapes like spheres or domed cylinders (thus eating up passenger or cargo space).

      A “bi fuel” compressed natural gas / gasoline vehicle requires at least two separate fuel tanks, only one of which is being tapped at any time, making the other dead weight, requiring the driver to track not one but two fuel gauges, etc. Most also require stop, shutdown, and a switch-throw to use the other fuel.

      By contrast, it’s very cheap and easy to turn methane into methanol. Methanol, like other alcohols (ethanol, propanol, butanol) is a liquid at normal temperature and pressure, making it much cheaper, safer, and easier to transport, store, fuel up with, and use in an engine than methane (natural gas), ethane, propane, or butane. Better yet, a fully flex fueled vehicle can also use gasoline as a fallback if alcohol fuel is unavailable, and mix that gasoline with alcohol in any ratio in the same fuel tank, an ordinary irregularly shaped fuel tank that stays out of the way by filling the space between the inner and outer surfaces of the car, conveniently leaving plenty of cargo and passenger space.

      Transitioning to alcohol fuel is much cheaper, easier, and faster. And we can still use natural gas, not directly as a vehicle fuel itself, but as a feedstock for methanol.

    • Carney

      I just don’t expect conservation to make that much difference in the grand scheme of things.


      In the first place, improved fuel economy does not actually result in less fuel use. From 1976 to 1990, our fleet average MPG went up from 13 to 20, but despite being able to go the same distance with much less fuel, our annual gasoline usage went up from 89 to 103 billion gallons. Population growth, economic growth, and human nature combine to grow fuel demand too fast for even drastic efficiency improvements to keep up, let alone bypass.

      In the second place, even if we somehow reduced our consumption, it would do us no economic or geostrategic good at all. Because of its permanent and unfixable hammerlock on the world oil supply, OPEC can respond to reduced consumption by neatly cutting production to match, spiking the per-unit oil price and making just as much money as before despite reduced sales volume. Thus we end up paying just as much as before for less oil as we did before for more oil, wasting the wealth and opportunities expended on efficiency improvements; and the extremists and terrorists get just as much of our money to make war on us as before.

      The key issue is not how much gasoline you use. It’s whether your cars are locked in to being ONLY able to use gasoline; whether you are a helpless captive market for OPEC that has no choice but to pay whatever price OPEC demands if you want to move about and live your life. That lock-in enables OPEC to charge and get ludicrous monopoly prices for what should be a cheap commodity.

      Breaking our vehicle fleet free of the unnecessary “lock-in” to oil is the central, urgent, red-alert issue that has been flashing for decades, ignored, as our feckless political class advocates and does nearly everything ELSE.

      Both Obama and McCain promised to make flex-fuel a standard feature in the 2008 campaign, but that key promise was buried in the usual laundry list of irrelevant distractions and forgotten after the election. A bipartisan, cross-ideological group of Congressmen have been championing the Open Fuel Standards Act in the last two Congresses, but their efforts have been ignored, and need MUCH more public support.

  • _will_

    wonderful, illuminating post and comments. this is why I keep coming back to FF.

  • Rabiner

    We should be investing in battery technologies in my opinion. The better battery we can produce, the less reliance on gasoline as a fuel for vehicles there is.

  • Stewardship

    Help me out here on the topic of speculators. Don’t they just buy future contracts? They don’t actually follow through and hold the oil (although, in 2008, they did fill tankers and let them float offshore until they thought the time was best to sell). There simply isn’t enough storage space to buy and hold the amount of oil a couple of posters have mentioned.

    Speculators drive up the price of oil, by betting that prices will be higher in the future. And they certainly might drive up spot pricing by buying contracts for immediately delivery. But they aren’t buying and holding the actual commodity.


  • Watusie

    Carney // Mar 15, 2011 at 3:35 pm” Ethanol corn is not irrigated.

    OK, now you are telling outright lies.

    Here’s a nice easy-to-understand summary for you:

    Here is the state of ND telling farmers how to irrigate their corn and where to find the nearest ethanol plant:

    And here is, of all things, Ethanol Producer Magazine (!) voicing the concern that current industry production targets will require that 25% of new ethanol corn growth will require irrigation.

    Add to that the fact that the process of making ethanol requires a great deal of water, and you have this situation – from the same source, therefore hardly guilty of anti-ethanol bias:

    “ethanol will demand more water than the combined annual usage of all cities in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho and Nevada”

  • Watusie

    Carney // Mar 15, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    “Ethanol corn is not irrigated.”

    That is a flat-out lie.
    Note the title of the publication – hardly a group with anti-ethanol bias.

    You dismiss my “anecdotal evidence” – but, Carney, there is such a think as knowledge of the actual facts. Such as: through inheritance I am part owner of a fair bit of farmland. It is being used to grow corn. For ethanol. Using irrigation.

    And you still have done absolutely nothing to address my original objection to your looney concept: there isn’t another, undiscovered, underutilized “Corn Belt” out there, waiting to be exploited. Every acre that is optimal for growing corn is already growing corn. And as our growing seasons get hotter, even the high-yielding land will produce less each year.

    If you think you can tear up wheat fields in Kansas and Oklahoma and Texas and grow corn without irrigation, or start chopping down forests and replacing them with corn fields without BOTH irrigation and horrendous environmental damage, you are even more detached from reality that I originally imagined.

    There may be some merit in grass/cane biofuels. But corn? Insanity.

    • Carney

      If you find information to contradict my claim, congratulations. But don’t call me a liar; that presumes knowing dishonesty on my part. I realize requests from others that you observe typical courtesy and decent conduct fall on deaf ears, so perhaps a mere amoral utilitarian argument will work; viz., indulging in typical Watusie-style aggressive rudeness and namecalling provides abundant evidence to others supporting the thesis that Watusie is a vicious jerk, and makes people less likely to listen to and believe you.

      My claim comes, again, from “Energy Victory”, specifically: “Pimentel assumes all corn is irrigated; only 16% is, and virtually no irrigated corn is converted to ethanol.” (Chapter 8, page 130). The cite is as follows:

      Endnote 10. S. Kim and B. Dale, “Environmental Aspects of Ethanol Derived from No-Till Corn Grain: Nonrenewable Energy Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Emissions,”Biomass and Bioenergy 28 (2005): 475-89. See also S. Kim and B. Dale, “Allocation Procedure in Ethanol Production from Corn Grain,” LCA Case Studies, International Journal of Life Cycle Analysis 8, no. 4 (2003).

      • Watusie



        I just gave you a link to an ETHANOL INDUSTRY PUBLICATION which utterly refutes your lie – which didn’t stop you from repeating it. Saying something you know isn’t true = lie.

  • djenkins

    LISGUY, I am not against energy production. We all need energy. The issue is what fuels we should use. Some environmental groups are against anything except wind and solar. That position is just as unrealistic as folks on the right thinking we can drill enough oil to be energy independent.

    We need a diversity of fuel sources, with a strong focus on those with the least environmental impact. Combining hybrid-electric and flex-fuel in our automobiles would be a smart step forward. There is certainly a place for biofuels in that mix, although we have to pay attention to lifecycle impacts. There is an interesting draft report on biofuels from EPA that can be downloaded here:

    Natural gas is also going to play an important role, whether it is for electric generation, feedstock for other fuels, or perhaps to power the trucking industry. We have a lot of natural gas and it is much cleaner than coal, but it has to be extracted responsibly. Nuclear also has to be in the mix.

    A forward-thinking, intelligent energy policy seeks to diversify our fuel mix with fuels that are domestically produced and sustainable long into the future–not just sustainable from a supply standpoint, but from an environmental one as well. It also must have a keen focus on improving efficiency and conserving resources.

  • pnwguy


    While we might butt heads on other topics, I appreciate your insight and persistence on this one.

    A few other points to add to the discussion. One is related to engine improvements over the last few decades. Engine efficiencies have indeed increased. But automakers for the US market have consistently nullified that improvement by putting twice the horsepower engines in vehicles. Even the smallest econo-box can rocket from a cold start. Detroit has gone back to selling “macho” since the Reagan era. And vehicle size and weight reversed the earlier downward trend, such that SUV’s and trucks became a far greater share of the market.

    Second. Even with alcohol based fuels, there are benefits to electric hybrids. The biggest is regenerative braking. All the kinetic energy of motion is in one way or another dissipated into waste heat – either from tire friction, air drag, or in urban driving by applying the brakes. By taking a high percentage of the braking energy and letting it recharge the batteries instead, this is recaptured. That’s also why many hybrids have better mileage in city driving than highway. In normal vehicles, the opposite is true.

    Third. Like your FlexFuel initiative, the DOT should also mandate (dirty word, I know) that we require instant & average fuel economy displays in all vehicles sold in the US, just as we require displays of ground speed. I would wager that US motorists would easily reduce by 10% their fuel usage once they became continually aware of what driving habits affect fuel efficiency. It becomes game-like, and the natural habit is to get the highest score. In very little time, people adjust their habits, once they have some tangible feedback. Conservatives typically want to foster tools to measure progress. Here’s an easy one to help with the national security threat that our petroleum dependency causes us.

  • Rabiner


    He’s upset at you calling it a lie as opposed to untrue. There is a distinction in intent between a lie and untruth that can be insulting.

    • Watusie

      OK. So it was untrue the first time he said. But when he repeated it – having been shown that it was untrue – it was a lie.

  • forkboy1965

    So the GOP basically wants us to spend untold billions of dollars and increase the potential for long-term environmental disaster so that we can squeeze what really amounts to a handful of additional barrels of oil from our own backyard, but their brains freeze and they scream about a lack of liberty at the suggestion we move to compact florescent light bulbs?

    That’s a very special mind-set.

  • politicalfan

    “Peddling geologic ignorance may score some points with voters who don’t know any better, but it won’t bring the promised relief at the pump.”

    Do you mean like this, “Let’s not forget that in September 2008, candidate Obama’s Energy Secretary in-waiting said: ‘Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe,’” she continued. “That’s one campaign promise they’re working hard to fulfill!”

    Where Glenn B. ends and one former gov …


    Mr. Jenkins: Thank you for your kind reply. I will take a look at that EPA report.
    Ethanol/methanol: I would simply caution against overselling the potential of these fuel sources. I’m not a fan of them by any stretch of the imagination, but I don’t think they should be ruled out either.
    Flex fuel: just a note: Frank Gafney was touting the benefits of flex fuel set up in cars/SUVs a couple of years ago on the Hugh Hewitt show if memory serves me right.
    shale oil: I had an old National Geographic from the early 80′s talking about shale oil and the cost and bother of extraction have been the biggest barriers to extraction all along. Having said that, the oil is there and could be extracted and thus counted as a source of petroleum. A troublesome one perhaps, but one nevertheless.
    Nuclear: It’s a pity that the coal here in KY is high in sulfer content and it is also a pity that we still have a moratorium on the construction of nuclear power plants as well. I am also in favor of greater use of nuclear power generation.
    At this point, I am willing to consider all ideas for energy production, transmission and use to get our economy moving in a positive direction.

    • Carney


      Ethanol/methanol: I would simply caution against overselling the potential of these fuel sources.

      Alcohol fuels do have various drawbacks, some of them even real rather than mythical, which I can get into if desired. However, the alternative in the real world is not drawback-free perfection, it is the alternative. The status quo is obviously a disaster. Other alternatives, with various levels of merit, have flaws too. Overall, alcohol is the cheapest, easiest to transition to, most practical alternative to oil.

      Given alcohol’s great potential, and the nonsense FUD being peddled against it by an unholy alliance of the oil cartel and radical Malthusian greens, the real danger in the current context is in under-selling it.

      I’m not a fan of them by any stretch of the imagination, but I don’t think they should be ruled out either.

      It’s far too late for such musing and dithering. Getting off oil is a hair-on-fire emergency.

      Flex fuel: just a note: Frank Gafney was touting the benefits of flex fuel set up in cars/SUVs a couple of years ago on the Hugh Hewitt show if memory serves me right.

      Quite true. For me that’s a boost to its credibility. For others, clearly not. In any case, this is an issue that crosses not merely partisan but also ideological boundaries.

      Both Obama and McCain promised a flex fuel mandate in their 2008 campaigns. The Open Fuel Standards Act has had backers in Congress ranging from hardcore conservatives like Roscoe Bartlett, Sam Brownback, and Jack Kingston, to moderate technocrats like Maria Cantwell, to staunch liberals like Jerrold Nadler and Eliot Engel.

      Former Clinton CIA Director described “Set America Free”, a pro-flex fuel mandate group, as “a coalition of tree huggers, do-gooders, sodbusters, cheap hawks, and evangelicals.”

  • ggore

    Drilling won’t solve our gas-price situation because supply is NOT the problem. The problem is unfettered speculation in the petroleum markets that is running up the price of oil despite there being NO shortage and actually NO increase in demand lately. It is pure speculation, and the same situation that brought down the economy a few years ago.

    Traders back then tried to corner the market on oil, which brought gas prices to $5/gallon in some parts of the country, which caused people to stop buying big SUV’s and gas-guzzlers, which brought the auto industry to a standstill, put millions of Americans out of work and brought on the bailouts. The oil traders finally had to take delivery of this high-priced oil they had bought despite there being no demand for it, and they had no where to put it, which caused the price to eventually crash back down to where it should have been all along, which is where we were until the traders got back into the market about a year ago.

  • Carney

    Watusie, I made a claim. You called me a liar, meaning you accused me of operating in bad faith, making a claim I knew to be false. In response, I posted the citations, from mainstream peer-reviewed journals, that I used as the basis for my belief and claim, thus documenting my good faith. You then called me a liar again.

    I guess a “liar” is someone who dares to disagree with you, past or present, regardless of whether or not he has or ever had reasonable grounds for doing so.

    I realize you have a source for your claim as well. Thus, we have contradictory information. Among civilized and decent people, the solution in such cases is to examine the evidence, and either to conclude that both claims are reasonably sourced, or that one or the other claim supersedes the other for reasons such as timeliness, greater credibility, better methodology or relevance. Not to hurl accusations of bad faith.

    Now, to examine your article in some detail.

    The first source within it for your claim is a speech by former Bush Interior Secretary Kempthorne. I rather doubt you would swallow a claim from a Bush cabinet official an another environmentally relevant matter with such alacrity. In any event, it seems that when he is talking about the present day, he is not claiming that ethanol corn is irrigated, but that processing corn and turning it into ethanol consumes water. He addresses the issue of irrigation speculatively, saying that irrigation might be necessary for dramatically expanded use of corn ethanol.

    The second source for the claim is a study that gives a startlingly wide range of between 1 and 62 gallons of water needed per gallon of ethanol. It goes on to claim that the high end of the range all depends on whether the corn is irrigated.

    So, IF we irrigate ethanol corn, then ethanol corn is irrigated.

    Impressive “proof”, Watusie.

    The article then goes on to say the following:

    According to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Resource Economics and Social Sciences Division, the majority of producing ethanol plants in the United States and those that are planned or in construction are located in the heart of the Corn Belt where little irrigation is needed to grow corn.

    What a “liar” I am. Yes the article goes on to say that drastic expansion of ethanol corn would require irrigation in areas less ideal for corn production.

    But I have not claimed that corn ethanol can do the job alone. It’s done a lot and can do more, but what we’ll really need is the one-two punch of ethanol and methanol. We’ll need to drop our tariffs on imported ethanol to give tropical farmers a piece of the action, and make methanol from natural gas, coal, and biomass such as crop residues – including the cobs, stems and leaves from ethanol corn farms, further increasing per-acre fuel yields.

  • Watusie

    Carney, you are wrong. You are saying things which are untrue. You are relying on a single source of dubious credibility which was published in 2007 and which cites studies written in 2005 and 2003 which were probably based on data gather a in a few years prior. So, lets say, a decade out of date? A decade ago ethanol corn was not irrigated. However, the Corn Belt – the region of the country where corn flourishes with normal rainfall – is of finite size. And, as the climate changes, it is shrinking. Corn-based ethanol can only be a realistic energy solution if more corn is grown; more corn can only be grown by expanding to other states; and in those states, corn requires irrigation. You have an ethanol industry publication which acknowledges this fact, but you think that your decade-out-of-date erroneous statement somehow give you a pass on acknowledging these simple facts.
    Here’s the state of North Dakota telling farmers how to irrigate corn and where to find their nearest ethanol plant:

    Here’s a study from the University of Minnesota that finds that “Ethanol consumes more water over time as corn production extends to regions that need extensive irrigation” and “more water is needed to produce a given unit of ethanol over time.”

    You are wrong. You are saying things which are untrue. You are saying things which you know to be untrue. Every time you say ethanol corn is not irrigated you tell a lie.

    • Carney

      So, when the facts are relentlessly and in detail laid out in a way so that you cannot escape, you finally, grudgingly eke out an admission that corn, which is grown in the Corn Belt, is not irrigated. If you will recall, that was the whole basis for our dispute.

      However, you then attempt to shift the topic to one that is very different from whether we irrigate ethanol corn now, over to the separate issue of whether, if we dramatically expanded the areas in which we grow ethanol corn into areas that are suboptimal land for that crop, we would THEN need to possibly irrigate it.

      That is, as any disinterested and honest observer would admit, weak grounds at best to level the toxic accusation of me being a liar over my initial claim that ethanol corn is not irrigated, an accusation you continue to recklessly repeat. I would demand an apology from you if I had any confidence that you could be counted on to feel shame or remorse. As it is, I will carry on with my low expectations of you, which you vindicate with every post.

  • Watusie

    No Carney, wrong again. THIS is the basis of our dispute:

    [b]Carney // Mar 15, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    Ethanol corn is not irrigated.[/b]

    This is not true. Ethanol corn, now, today (well, last growing season), is irrigated. Extensively. Because the Corn Belt can’t grown enough corn to support the quantities of ethanol needed to make it a viable energy source. So corn is now, today, (well, last growing season), being grown outside the Corn Belt, where it is irrigated.

    Repetition of what you know isn’t true = lies.

    • Carney

      Once again:

      1. I said that ethanol corn is not irrigated. I did so in good faith, having convincing reasonable evidence to back up that claim. Therefore my initial claim was not a lie. You had no basis to accuse me of being a liar in that case, since you did not know whether I had any information to back up my claim. You owe me an apology for your reckless malice.

      2. I then brought forward proof that I had had a convincing reasonable basis to make my initial claim. Rather than retract and apologize for your reckless accusation, you dug yourself in deeper by repeating it. You owe me an apology for continuing to accuse me of dishonesty, after I documented irrefutably that I had in fact been acting in good faith. Your providing evidence that at least at first blush contradicted mine in no way proved initial dishonesty on my part. This makes any subsequent claim of yours of later dishonesty on my part far less credible. You’re the boy who cried wolf.

      3. I then did you the courtesy of carefully reading and examining the article you provided. I showed that in many ways it did not live up to the billing you gave it, particularly on the issue of whether corn ethanol is currently irrigated. Your response was to stubbornly repeat your accusation that I’m a liar, for not making more of the highly disputable and weak evidence than it deserved.

      4. You have then thrown out more information, such as a pamphlet from an irrigation trade association trying to persuade farmers to begin irrigating their corn, in an attempt to show that ethanol corn is irrigated “extensively”. A weasel word. Thus far there is no basis for altering the view that for practical purposes, the default and standard setting, so to speak, is that today ethanol corn is not irrigated. Yes, you can find individual and relatively rare exceptions. I’m sure elderly women of Japanese ancestry have committed muggings. But that’s not how you design a law enforcement policy, or an energy policy either. I guess I should have said “ethanol corn is HARDLY EVER irrigated” to avoid pedantry and hysterical accusations of dishonesty from malicious trolls.

      Again you owe me an apology, several at this point, but since it is you we are dealing with, I do not expect one.

  • Watusie

    I am sorry I called you liar.

    It is untrue to say that ethanol corn is not irrigated.

    It is untrue to say that there is plenty of currently uncultivated land in the United States that can grow all the corn we need to produce ethanol.

  • Carney

    pnwguy, thanks for the kind words.

    Overall, the central problem with your suggestions is that they all relate to reducing fuel usage via greater fuel efficiency. I view that as the left’s equivalent of “drill baby drill” – a solution that is ineffective because it fails to think outside the oil box, when the central problem is oil’s monopoly on being able to make things move.

    I addressed conservation/efficiency in more detail here:

  • Carney

    I am sorry I called you liar.

    All right then. Thanks.

    It is untrue to say that ethanol corn is not irrigated.

    Until relatively recently, it was fair to say that essentially no ethanol corn was irrigated. Now it seems some ethanol corn is irrigated, although I have not seen evidence that this is common, let alone the norm.

    It is untrue to say that there is plenty of currently uncultivated land in the United States that can grow all the corn we need to produce ethanol.

    I never claimed that we could supply all our fuel needs by expanding US corn ethanol production. I did say that there is a lot of uncultivated land, and that there is a lot of slack capacity in the US and world ag sectors.

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