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Protecting Our Addiction to Oil Comes at a Cost

July 19, 2010


For years now, we have heard environmentalists and some in the government tell us that gasoline production and oil use dont have indirect greenhouse gas emissions. It is only biofuels like ethanol, we have been told, that must suffer penalties for these so-called indirect emissions. According the a new groundbreaking report to be published in Environmental Science, requiring our military to protect the free flow of oil comes with environmental consequences. And those impacts are potentially HUGE. A paper to be published tomorrow in Environment Magazine found that the military activities related to acquiring and protecting oil imports from the Middle East generate significant GHG emissions that have, so far, been unaccounted for in fuel and climate regulations such as EPAs Renewable Fuels Standard and CARBs Low Carbon Fuels Standard. In the paper (Securing Foreign Oil: A Case for Including Military Operations in the Climate Change Impact of Fuels), University of Nebraska Professors Adam Liska and Richard Perrin write, military activity to protect international oil trade is a direct production component for importing foreign oilas necessary for imports as are pipelines and supertankersand therefore the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from that military activity are relevant to U.S. fuel policies related to climate change. Using previously published estimates of the fraction of military expenditures attributable to securing oil supplies, the authors found that defense of oil imports from the Middle East incurs a significant GHG cost. The authors write, Overall military emissions associated with gasoline from the Middle East are then found to range from 8.1 to 18.2 g CO2e per MJ, with attributional military security alone at the low end to attributional military security and the Iraq War at the high end; the consequential approach to military security emissions alone is 17.5 g CO2e per MJ. It should also be noted that as petroleum imports decline, the intensity of these emissions would increase if expenditures for military security were to remain constant. Notably, the estimate of 8.1 to 18.2 g/MJ is similar to the most recent published estimate of theoretical indirect land use change emissions tied to corn ethanol expansion. In April, authors from Purdue University estimated corn ethanol ILUC emissions to be 13.9 g/MJ. The bottom line here is that all fuel sources have indirect emissions, and if biofuels are going to be penalized, so too must oil and gasoline. The emissions from military operations that ensure the free flow of oil to feed our addiction are as must fair game as the flawed idea that corn ethanol use in the U.S. leads to deforestation in Brazil.