Oil Alternatives Are Now Necessary

It seems that the high price of crude oil internationally has caused the production of a great amount of crude oil here in the United States. The production increases has put so much crude oil on the market that it has lowered imports of oil coming from outside North America. In comes the Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada. You would think that tar sands crude would finish the job on imports and the United States would be independent from sources of oil outside the North America continent. By a strange twist the Canadian Keystone XL pipeline crude isn’t bound for us. The entire thrust of the pipeline through the heart of the United States is because the company wanting to build the pipeline, TransCanada, wants to reach international markets in Latin America, Europe, Africa and other places around the Atlantic. TransCanada plans to take its product to the Pacific Rim nations from ports in Seattle and elsewhere on the Canadian west coast.

 

TransCanada wants to ship its tar crude to the rest of the world by going through the United States to Gulf coast terminals and perhaps sell some to the refineries there. The oil companies and refineries at the same time got an idea as well. The crude coming through the pipelines would not be theirs; however, a new market had been growing around the world for finished refined goods that come from crude like gasoline. They had all the crude oil they needed to produce gasoline for the United States from non-tar sand sources. They didn’t want to produce too much gasoline for the domestic market and thereby reduce the price of gasoline. However, if they spent the money for the extra refining needed to process the tar sands crude they could sell products like gasoline and diesel to the world at a margin well worth the investment. So the entire plan for the Keystone XL pipeline has been hatched and it doesn’t include lowering the price of gasoline in the United States. The number of jobs that will be produced that will be permanent jobs will be minimal. A few more refining jobs, some pipeline maintenance workers and maybe a job or two at the terminal connecting to the tanker ships where all this oil and oil products will be eventually loaded up and shipped elsewhere.

 

The increases in production will have virtually no effect on US prices for gasoline since they are being used to feed the increasing demand for oil coming from emerging economies around the world. As more and more economies emerge from third world status into the global economy their increased demand for oil will drive prices ever higher. That is unless our United States elected officials work to prevent our excess production and the Canadian tar sand oil traversing our country, from being shipped overseas. To create the excess supply that will bring down prices we need for that stuff to stay here. (Not that I want it to stay here, I am an environmentalist. What I am doing is poking holes in the argument that we need the Keystone XL pipeline because it will reduce the cost of gasoline for American consumers.)

 

We can only effectively solve the affects of high priced gasoline in the United States in three ways, either a tremendous increase in domestic output of oil that creates a surplus of oil and requiring that oil to stay here, or reducing our consumption significantly thereby creating an oversupply here in the United States and requiring that oversupply to stay here, or that the we look at possible substitutes or alternatives to oil to moderate demand on oil by providing consumers choices. The first approach, increasing our domestic supply has happened, however, with exports our price dropping excess oil can be shipped overseas where the emerging economies will grow to soak up all of that extra production. The push to reduce demand is also happening. The government’s dramatic increase in Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards has pushed new car fuel efficiency dramatically upward thereby reducing the growth of the demand for oil. The recession and the high price of gasoline has also dampened demand significantly and moved consumers to purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles and less gasoline. Yet, these two major factors have not had a significant effect on the price of gasoline as of late, which is an example that oil doesn’t follow normal economic assumptions. There is greater than good chance that oil prices are dictated and manipulated quite effectively by individuals and groups who control its supply. In this case the third option, which is to find other ways to power our vehicles, may be the only true way to control oil prices. Unlike finding more oil, substitutes have a strong moderating effect on future oil prices because consumers can switch to a substitute if oil prices get too high. Alternatives or substitutes for oil provide for a more effective competition in fuels. International prices can’t go up but so high since the height of their price depends on the height of the price of its competing alternatives. Remember if oil becomes more expensive than an alternative then everyone who can will switch to an alternative to save money.

 

The three oil substitutes that need the fewest infrastructure changes for distribution are ethanol, natural gas and electricity. Unfortunately ethanol prices have risen dramatically in recent weeks because of the droughts in western and mid-western states. Making ethanol a real alternative would also added demand to a commodity that is not used to the demand levels of crude oil. Shifting America’s motive power to ethanol will probably push prices up much higher and production would be limited by land availability. There are also ethical problems using a food crop to power our vehicles. However, making ethanol from non-food feed stock would be a highly effective alternative to gasoline. Natural gas, on the other hand, has a very strong distribution network already in existence; it is in abundant supply and is far less expensive than gasoline. If vehicles were made to be multi-fuel vehicles, taking both natural gas and any combination of ethanol and gasoline we could be heading down the path of providing the vehicle owner with what the motive fuel arena really needs, which is a lot more choices in fuels. Electricity has the added advantage of being produced from a variety of fuel sources such as natural gas, coal, nuclear, as well as renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydroelectric power. This variety keeps prices for fuels under control by distributing demand among a wider variety of fuel suppliers.

 

The ultimate solution to the oil price problem would be a vehicle that can take advantage of all three fuels. This vehicle would be a multi-fuel vehicle capable of taking advantage of gasoline or natural gas, or even liquid petroleum gases such as propane or butane. It would also be a flexible fuel vehicle able to use 100% gasoline all the way to 100% ethanol and any mixture in between. Ideally this vehicles combustion engine should be reserved to play a backup role as a range extended generator for an electric vehicle similar to the Chevy Volt and the Fisker Karma set up. In this way the owner could easily choose between fuels to the one that allows him or her to keep more of their hard earned income to use for other purposes. It is the other purposes that will spur the economy onward and upward.

 

All three fuels, ethanol, natural gas and electricity, when combined would provide choices to consumers and provide a moderating force on run-away oil prices. They would do that by competing with each other to provide the lowest price so that each can hold onto a share of the fuel market. There are other reasons for using alternatives to oil such as the lower impact on the environment and lowering our dependence on foreign sources of energy. Still, for strictly economic reasons, alternatives are now a necessary strategic response to preventing future economic hardships caused by oil price increases and volatility.

 

 

Plug In Day, 2012 Needs Organizers NOW!!!

National Plug In Day will be held on Sunday, September 23, 2012, and is an unprecedented nationwide observance drawing global attention to the environmental, economic and other benefits of plug-in electric vehicles through simultaneous events staged in cities nationwide.

Plug In America, the Sierra Club, and the Electric Auto Association are teaming up to plan for this effort, which will sound the bell through plug-in parades, tailpipe-free tailgate parties, test-drives and other grassroots activities.

The goal of National Plug In Day is to get owners of plug-in cars together with the general public. The general public can then talk to the owners of these vehicles and hear what the cars are like to live with in the real world. We are hoping that this will motivate more members of the public to consider a plug in vehicle for themselves the next time they are thinking of purchasing a new vehicle.

It is my hope that this year’s event move from being solely United States observance to being an event that includes many more cities in the U.S. and many international one as well. To make this happen we need organizers everywhere. The Sierra Club is offering assistance to what they call “City Captains.” City captains will be the point of contact for organizing the National Plug In Day event in a particular city.

Below the fold is an Email with contact information to get started.

 

 

There's more...

Dirty Money for Dirty Laws

What can nearly $80,000 buy these days? Judging from recent campaign filings, it can buy a handful of oil friendly bills in Congress.

During the first quarter of 2011, ExxonMobil contributed $79,000 to members of the two main House committees that are driving the assault on President Obama’s clean energy policies. About 97 percent of ExxonMobil’s money went to Republicans, according to POLITICO.

ExxonMobil isn’t the only polluter spreading money around. One year after the blowout on the Deepwater Horizon, BP wrote out checks totaling $29,000 to the campaigns of House Republican leaders.

Energy companies are getting a good return on their investment. Last month, Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA) introduced three bills that would:

  • Mandate drilling off the entire coast of the United States, including the Arctic, and eliminate in perpetuity the ability of U.S. presidents to decide not to drill in these areas.
  • Accelerate offshore permitting, making the regulatory process even weaker than it was before the BP disaster.
  • Compel the Obama Administration to hold lease sales in parts of the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Virginia and block the courts from challenging the Environmental Impact Statements made by the companies vying for the leases.
It’s hard to understand why oil companies need a helping hand right now. ExxonMobil made nearly $11 billion in the first quarter. And drilling in the federal Outer Continental Shelf has increased by more than a third in the past two years.

According to data from the nonpartisan Energy Information Agency, even if we dramatically expanded offshore drilling, we wouldn’t see an impact on gas prices until 2030, and even that it would be a matter of just five cents.

These Hastings bills are not about the public good. Nor are they about responding to what voters want. A new poll conducted from NRDC Action Fund found that only 29 percent of respondents would vote for a candidate calling for more offshore drilling instead of one who supported cleaner ways of dealing with America’s oil addiction.

No, these bills are about expanding profit margins for the oil industry.

And unfortunately, they aren’t the only polluters getting into the act. A new website created by a coalition of environmental groups (including our sister organization, the NRDC) makes it easy to find out which lawmakers are voting on behalf of the polluters who helped finance them.

Coal companies, for instance, are also using the legislative process on behalf of their own self interest. Last week, the largest coal-burning utility in the nation shopped around a bill that would exempt utilities from a host of pollution rules; some lawmakers supporting the bill even acknowledged the bill was drafted by the company.

Meanwhile, Representative Fred Upton (R-MI), chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee drove through a bill that would undermine the Clean Air Act and prevent the EPA from reducing dangerous carbon pollution. Polls show that Upton’s constituents didn’t support this bill; they know it is bad for their health. But then again, less than 10 percent of Upton’s donations actually come from his constituents, while he has collected tens of thousands of dollars from out-of-state polluters like ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and Peabody Energy Corps. So I wonder whose bidding he is doing here.

Injecting money into the political system gets results. Until Congress passes a law to prevent these kinds of dirty quid pro quos, our only defense against deep-pocketed polluters is the coal opposition of citizens.

ExxonMobil seems to be spreading as much money around as possible to get its way in Congress these days, and so far it has no reason to be disappointed with the results

Weekly Mulch: Want to Combat Climate Change? Ignore Congress.

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Congress comes back into session next week, but environmentalists and climate change activists have given up on the legislature. Instead, activists are planning to spur popular concern about these issues, until calls for change are so loud that Congress must listen.

Today, climate change reformer Bill McKibben will ask President Obama to reinstall a solar panel that first graced the White House roof during the Carter presidency. In the months to come, advocates hope to lead more radical direct actions that force more Americans to confront the issues at hand—and hopefully pressure change from the bottom up.

For the past two years, Congress has flirted with action on climate change, only to shy away time and time again. Environmental groups have spent record sums on courting lawmakers to no avail. McKibben and other environmental advocates are now convinced that they must bypass elected representatives and instead work to convince constituents that the country must do something to address global warming.

Direct action

McKibben, the environmental author who now leads an international climate campaign called 350.0rg, along with Phil Radford and Becky Tarbotton, both heads of environmental groups, wrote to potential allies against the energy industry in Yes! Magazine.

“We’re not going to beat them by asking nicely,” the three wrote. “We’re going to have to build a movement, a movement much bigger than anything we’ve built before, a movement that can push back against the financial power of Big Oil and Big Coal. That movement is our only real hope, and we need your help to plot its future.”

These three leaders see a greater role for direct action in pushing America to scale down its energy use, move towards renewable energy, and abandon its dirty energy habits. As civil rights and suffrage advocates suggest, to move the populace, ”to effectively communicate both to the general public and to our leaders the urgency of the crisis,” climate activists must “put our bodies on the line.”

Those for who have suggestions on how to move forward can contact these leaders at climate.ideas@gmail.com. They hope to draw on submitted ideas for actions in the spring.

Clean Energy Victory Bonds

Those less inclined to take to the streets still have options for supporting clean energy. The Nation’sPeter Rothberg suggests supporting the idea of Clean Energy Victory Bonds (CEVB), as conceived by the group Green America. This idea requires Congress to pass legislation, but “it seems like a no-brainer,” Rothberg writes.

According to Green America, CEVBs would benefit the economy, the environment, and investors, by uniting individuals, communities, and companies to help finance the rapid deployment of renewable energy projects and energy efficiency upgrades,” he says. Other benefits: it’s a safe and potentially flexible investment, and the bonds could help create 1.7 million jobs.

Easy to ignore climate change

At this point, the push for direct action almost seems like a more sensible investment of political energy, at least. Climate change has dropped in importance for most Americans, so it’s easy for Congress to ignore the problem. As Kevin Drum explains for Mother Jones, “The high-water mark for public opinion on climate change was in 2005 or so, and we’ve been losing ground ever since. Until we get it back, Congress is going to continue to do nothing.”

It appears that, without broad popular pressure for some sort of action, Congress feels comfortable leaving aside even policy proposals that the majority of Americans support. One of the sticking points of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) energy bill has been a renewable energy standard (RES), a requirement that the country will increase the percentage of its power generated from clean energy sources within a certain time frame.

R-e-s-p-e-c-t

The idea is popular, as David Roberts writes at Grist, citing a Pew/National Journal poll showing that 78 percent of all respondents and 70% of Republicans favored an RES.

“Not many policies get this kind of bipartisan support these days,” Roberts writes. “People are fond of saying energy should be a bipartisan issue and surely reasonable people can agree, etc. Well, here it is, happening.”

What’s more, an RES would go a long way towards spurring private sector investment in clean energy. Lew Hay, the CEO of NextEra, a major clean energy company, has said that an RES would spur his company to invest billions of additional dollars in wind and solar development.

East vs. Midwest

Passing an RES would also mean pushing the renewable energy industry to hash out a viable infrastructure for a clean energy future.

“As the nation looks to move to a renewable energy standard, a lot of that really comes down to how to meet the energy needs of the East coast,” Jamie Karnik, the communications manager at a wind advocacy group, told The Washington Independent’s Andrew Restuccia. “Certainly people who are building wind in the Midwest, have their eye on the eastern market.”

The problem is, Restuccia reports, that entrepreneurs on the East Coast want a chance to develop off-shore wind farms. Ultimately, the country will need new electric lines to transport energy created from clean sources, but right now, competition among clean energy manufacturers could delay the construction of those lines.

Maybe climate change activists can come up with some ideas to push the clean energy industry along faster, too.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The AuditThe Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: Want to Combat Climate Change? Ignore Congress.

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Congress comes back into session next week, but environmentalists and climate change activists have given up on the legislature. Instead, activists are planning to spur popular concern about these issues, until calls for change are so loud that Congress must listen.

Today, climate change reformer Bill McKibben will ask President Obama to reinstall a solar panel that first graced the White House roof during the Carter presidency. In the months to come, advocates hope to lead more radical direct actions that force more Americans to confront the issues at hand—and hopefully pressure change from the bottom up.

For the past two years, Congress has flirted with action on climate change, only to shy away time and time again. Environmental groups have spent record sums on courting lawmakers to no avail. McKibben and other environmental advocates are now convinced that they must bypass elected representatives and instead work to convince constituents that the country must do something to address global warming.

Direct action

McKibben, the environmental author who now leads an international climate campaign called 350.0rg, along with Phil Radford and Becky Tarbotton, both heads of environmental groups, wrote to potential allies against the energy industry in Yes! Magazine.

“We’re not going to beat them by asking nicely,” the three wrote. “We’re going to have to build a movement, a movement much bigger than anything we’ve built before, a movement that can push back against the financial power of Big Oil and Big Coal. That movement is our only real hope, and we need your help to plot its future.”

These three leaders see a greater role for direct action in pushing America to scale down its energy use, move towards renewable energy, and abandon its dirty energy habits. As civil rights and suffrage advocates suggest, to move the populace, ”to effectively communicate both to the general public and to our leaders the urgency of the crisis,” climate activists must “put our bodies on the line.”

Those for who have suggestions on how to move forward can contact these leaders at climate.ideas@gmail.com. They hope to draw on submitted ideas for actions in the spring.

Clean Energy Victory Bonds

Those less inclined to take to the streets still have options for supporting clean energy. The Nation’sPeter Rothberg suggests supporting the idea of Clean Energy Victory Bonds (CEVB), as conceived by the group Green America. This idea requires Congress to pass legislation, but “it seems like a no-brainer,” Rothberg writes.

According to Green America, CEVBs would benefit the economy, the environment, and investors, by uniting individuals, communities, and companies to help finance the rapid deployment of renewable energy projects and energy efficiency upgrades,” he says. Other benefits: it’s a safe and potentially flexible investment, and the bonds could help create 1.7 million jobs.

Easy to ignore climate change

At this point, the push for direct action almost seems like a more sensible investment of political energy, at least. Climate change has dropped in importance for most Americans, so it’s easy for Congress to ignore the problem. As Kevin Drum explains for Mother Jones, “The high-water mark for public opinion on climate change was in 2005 or so, and we’ve been losing ground ever since. Until we get it back, Congress is going to continue to do nothing.”

It appears that, without broad popular pressure for some sort of action, Congress feels comfortable leaving aside even policy proposals that the majority of Americans support. One of the sticking points of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) energy bill has been a renewable energy standard (RES), a requirement that the country will increase the percentage of its power generated from clean energy sources within a certain time frame.

R-e-s-p-e-c-t

The idea is popular, as David Roberts writes at Grist, citing a Pew/National Journal poll showing that 78 percent of all respondents and 70% of Republicans favored an RES.

“Not many policies get this kind of bipartisan support these days,” Roberts writes. “People are fond of saying energy should be a bipartisan issue and surely reasonable people can agree, etc. Well, here it is, happening.”

What’s more, an RES would go a long way towards spurring private sector investment in clean energy. Lew Hay, the CEO of NextEra, a major clean energy company, has said that an RES would spur his company to invest billions of additional dollars in wind and solar development.

East vs. Midwest

Passing an RES would also mean pushing the renewable energy industry to hash out a viable infrastructure for a clean energy future.

“As the nation looks to move to a renewable energy standard, a lot of that really comes down to how to meet the energy needs of the East coast,” Jamie Karnik, the communications manager at a wind advocacy group, told The Washington Independent’s Andrew Restuccia. “Certainly people who are building wind in the Midwest, have their eye on the eastern market.”

The problem is, Restuccia reports, that entrepreneurs on the East Coast want a chance to develop off-shore wind farms. Ultimately, the country will need new electric lines to transport energy created from clean sources, but right now, competition among clean energy manufacturers could delay the construction of those lines.

Maybe climate change activists can come up with some ideas to push the clean energy industry along faster, too.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The AuditThe Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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