The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Importing Oil and ‘Myth’ (Both to Excess)

December 2006, by Ed Bobit - Also by this author

Myths there must be, since visions of the future must be clothed in imagery. But there myths which displace truth, and there are myths which give wings to truth.
William Ernest Hocking

Any profound view of the world is mysticism. It has, of course, to deal with life and the world, both of which are non-rational entities.
Albert Schweitzer

Even when the facts are available, most people seem to prefer the legend and refuse to believe the truth when it in any way dislodges the myth.
John Mason Brown

It is hard to say whether the doctors of law of divinity have made the greater advances in the lucrative business of mystery.
Edmund Burke

Even patriots and geo-activists can't completely ignore the economics and challenges facing independence.

Every concerned and loyal American cannot escape the near-terrifying constant threat of "running out of oil." Or being faced with an equally frightening, possibly long-term, experience of paying $3, $4, or$5/gallon at the pump.

"MPG" is a mantra among fleets as it is with consumers, perhaps even more so. Fleet, like retail buyers, have begun to shun the larger SUVs, focus on four-cylinder power, line up for Prius, Honda, and other hybrids, and specify flex-fuel whenever possible.

Please note that in fleets with flex-fuel vehicles, it makes the company look green, but everyone knows the drivers still use gasoline nearly 100 percent of the time. (And the manufacturers love the credits.)

All this has exposed us to more media reporting and political rhetoric on ethanol, corn, and Brazil than we probably wanted to hear or see. We are now all "greener" than we were five years ago (with good reason), and we're getting used to accepting both corn and ethanol. But, let's straighten out the Brazil myth.

The facts are that in 2005, Brazil consumed 664 million barrels of oil with a population of 186 million, or 3.6 barrel s/person/year.

In '05, the U.S. consumed 7.5 billion barrels for 296 million people or 25.3 barrels/person/year. So when you compare population and consumption, there's a 21.7-barrel/ person/year difference.

Here's placing it into another perspective. Due to the lower BTU value of ethanol, the U.S. would require 29 barrels of ethanol/person/year, or a total of 8.6 billion barrels of ethanol, to replace all oil imports. Thai is about 90 times the amount of ethanol currently produced in the U.S.

Those should be enough numbers to convince a third grader that there's a vast difference between our countries. There's also the fad that Brazil uses sugarcane (versus our corn), which is more efficient, plus the U.S. relies heavily on fossil fuels for conversion when Brazil doesn't.

Joe Neff, ex-chief engineer at both Cummins Engine and Peterbilt, suggests that the fossil fuel used to grow and harvest the U.S. corn crop, plus coal or imported natural gas to refine the corn into ethanol, and the diesel trucks to transport the fuel, uses 29-percent more energy than is obtained by burning low-energy ethanol in your vehicle.

Neff says that ethanol serves three masters: the 50 percent of net-income welfare subsidy to farmers, the 5 1 - cent-a-gallon federal subsidy to the refiners, and the incentive subsidy to the domestic manufacturers selling flex-fuel vehicles.

Someone converted (mythically, I'm sure) the entire '05 U.S. corn crop into ethanol and found that it would have displaced the net BTU equivalent of only 2 percent of our oil imports.

I sincerely hope this analysis doesn't spoil your white Christmas, and it remains a green one. I'll always believe in the Santa Claus "myth," but privately (now older and wiser), I realize he's not coming down my chimney.

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