In response to a congressional inquiry regarding a Navy purchase of expensive biofuels, Secretary Ray Mabus made numerous claims that are either factually incorrect or misleading regarding federal energy policy and the nation’s oil reserves.
Mabus was responding to concerns raised by Reps. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and Mike Conaway (R-TX) regarding a Navy purchase of 450,000 gallons of biofuels – the largest-ever federal purchase of such fuel – at $15 per gallon. That is more than three times the price of conventional diesel fuel.
The company providing the fuel, Solazyme, is advised by an energy consultant who helped write the alternative energy portion of president’s stimulus package.
“The math is clear,” Mabus told Lamborn in a letter dated March 23. “Opening up every possible source of oil available to us still would not provide enough to supply all our needs.”
That statement is categorically untrue. The United States has 1.4 trillion barrels of recoverable oil, more than the proven reserves (note: reserves, not recoverable resources) of any other nation, and more than the entire non-North American world combined, according to a study by the Institute for Energy Research.
It is true that the U.S. has only two percent of the world’s oil reserves, a statistic that Mabus cited in his letter in highly misleading fashion. But that measure only accounts for oil that is recoverable at current prices and under current law. In other words, if all government-owned land were open to oil development, that two percent figure would skyrocket.
What’s more, Lamborn did not suggest that all of the military’s energy should be met using oil. The issue is how best to determine what mix of energy sources should be used. The Obama administration apparently believes that bureaucrats, not market forces, are best suited to make that decision, despite evidence that the market is better suited to the task.
Mabus also touted one of the White House’s favorite talking points on energy production. “President Obama’s ‘All of the Above’ energy strategy clearly advocates increasing domestic oil production as much as possible,” Mabus wrote. “In fact, domestic oil production has risen and foreign oil imports have declined in each of the last three years.”
But as Scribe has reported, oil production on federal lands – lands over which the president has authority – is at a nine-year low. The increase in oil production that Mabus cites is due primarily to activity on privately-owned land.
As for oil imports, the decline Mabus cites is primarily attributable to decreases in domestic demand brought on by the economic downturn, and policies put in place by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, according to independent energy analysts.
Mabus went on to cite the potential price shocks that result from changes in global oil prices, claiming, “every dollar increase in the price of a barrel of oil costs the Navy an additional $30 million.”
But unless oil prices rise so rapidly that the per-gallon cost of fuel reaches $15 – the price paid for the biofuels that spurred Lamborn’s letter – even these price shocks cannot cost the Navy as much, per gallon of fuel, as the biofuel purchase in question.
Indeed, Mabus insisted, “a competitively priced and domestically produced liquid fuel that can be dropped in as a replacement to diesel or aviation gas can give us greater energy independence.” But Lamborn’s issue is precisely that the biofuels the Navy purchased are not “competitively priced.” They are many times the price of conventional fuel.
Mabus attempted to deflect that obvious point by noting that alternative energy remains expensive because “we have not provided the type or level of incentives for alternative fuels that we provide the oil industry to encourage exploration and production.”
Again, this claim is untrue. Most of the incentives enjoyed by the oil industry are enjoyed by a multitude of other businesses. They include standard tax write-offs for operating expenses, and tax breaks offered to all manufacturing or natural resource extraction companies. Alternative energy sources, meanwhile, enjoy specific and targeted subsidies aimed at benefitting certain technologies, industries, or companies.
The level of benefits afforded the oil industry is in fact below that given to the alternative energy sector. Tax breaks for oil companies – again, the primary source of federal support – pales in comparison to tax breaks given to alternative energy companies, as a recent Congressional Budget Office report pointed out.
Those facts aside, “every American would be better served by getting rid of all energy subsidies,” Heritage energy policy expert Jack Spencer told Scribe. “The fact is that the federal government doesn’t need to waste taxpayer money to bring new energy technologies on line.”
Spencer noted that if Mabus is correct and oil prices skyrocket to unaffordable levels, market forces would naturally offer a foothold for biofuels and other renewables without making the purchase of economically uncompetitive fuel sources necessary.
The Navy’s biofuel purchase, and Mabus’s defense of it, is part of an ongoing mission “that needlessly bleeds scarce resources away from core missions to advance a political agenda is untenable,” Spencer noted in a report on the effort.
“The White House is pushing the idea that the alternative energy industry would get the kick start it needs if the military will just commit to using them,” Spencer added. “But the assumptions behind this argument are flawed, and the strategy would increase demands on the military budget while harming national security.”
Here is the full text of Mabus’s letter: Mabus Letter
- On Energy Policy, Navy Secretary Is Either Dishonest or Misinformed (papundits.wordpress.com)
- When Defending Biofuels, Supporters Point to History (forbes.com)
- Military’s alt energy programs draw Republicans’ ire. (eenews.net)
- Daily Benefactor News – Obama’s Crony-Connected Biofuel Deal Will Cost Taxpayers Up To 9 Times More To Fuel Navy Jets (thedaleygator.wordpress.com)
- Navy Secretary: Algae-based fuel makes us ‘better warfighters’ (junkscience.com)
- Obama Defense Dept. Under Fire for Going Green (junkscience.com)
- GOP Congressmen slam Navy Secretary for green focus (junkscience.com)
The company is one of only three that holds a federal lease to research oil shale energy development on the Western Slope, but officials say they would rather pursue other projects.
“Chevron has notified the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Department of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS) that it intends to divest its oil shale research, development and demonstration lease in the Piceance Basin in Colorado,” the company announced Tuesday. “While our research was productive, this change assures that critical resources — people and capital — will be available to the company for other priorities and projects in North America and around the globe. We will work with the BLM and DRMS to determine the best path forward, timing and other issues.” Despite nearly 100 years of failed attempts to make oil shale commercially viable, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said the energy source will help fund his $260 billion transit package and U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado, is pushing the Pioneers Act, which would revive a 2008 plan put together during the Bush administration to open 2 million acres of public lands in Utah, Wyoming and western Colorado to oil shale drilling. The House passed Lamborn’s bill this month.
The Congressional Budget Office issued a report, however, which projected that Boehner’s bill would, over 10 years, leave the highway trust fund $78 billion in the red, and the Interior Department is looking at slashing the amount of land available for oil shale research to 462,000 acres.
“Chevron’s research hardly got started and they quickly concluded that they were throwing money down a rabbit hole. It’s indicative of the fact that oil and gas companies see much more profitable, and realistic, opportunities elsewhere,” said Colorado energy expert Randy Udall.
Squeezing energy out of oil shale requires immense quantities of water. Industrial-scale oil shale development could require as much as 150 percent of the amount of water the Denver Metro Area consumes annually, according to Bureau of Land Management estimates.
As early as 1921, oil companies have been trying to tap northwest Colorado for oil shale. The expense required to develop the energy source, however, has outweighed potential profits. About a dozen different projects have come and gone during that time — none remembered more than “Black Sunday” when ExxonMobil pulled the plug on a huge oil shale operation in western Colorado in 1982 that left the region in economic shambles.
Chevron and its subsidiaries started amassing acreage in Colorado for oil shale research back in the 1930s.
“Oil companies have been trying to pull the sword from the stone for nearly a century. Oil shale has no King Arthur,” said Matt Garrington of the Checks & Balances Project. “Chevron’s decision to pull out of oil shale is yet another reason why [U.S. Rep. Scott] Tipton [R-Colorado] and Lamborn should quit saying that melting rocks into oil will somehow fund critical repairs to our roads and bridges.”
Royal Dutch Shell and AMSO are the other two companies that hold oil shale leases in Colorado.
- Chevron gives up Colo. shale lease as Obama moves to shrink shale activity (junkscience.com)
- USA: Chevron to Splash USD 32.7 Billion in 2012 (mb50.wordpress.com)