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Oil Lobby Big on Frights, Short on Facts

October 30, 2015

           

You have probably heard about the oil industry’s most recent game of trick or treat — heavy on the trick, light on the treat. The Big Oil PR machine has gone into overdrive right in time for Halloween. We all love a good scare, but not when it comes to our choice of fuel at the pump. The RFA recently called foul on an oil industry–funded study by the University of Tennessee, which completely glossed over the beneficial role that ethanol has played in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The RFA also took the folks at Smarter Fuel Future to task for waging a misinformation campaign that claimed that ethanol is a bigger air polluter than fossil fuels. Big Oil’s tactics are nothing new. We’ve seen them before, and they are always based on fear and devoid of facts. The fact is several government agencies and universities — including the Department of Energy, the University of Illinois, and the International Energy Agency — agree that ethanol reduces GHG emissions by about a third compared to regular gasoline. That statistic includes, mind you, the hypothetical land use emissions that ethanol critics often turn to. Academic analysis has shown that if the Environmental Protection Agency decides to reduce RFS blending requirements by 1.6 billion gallons this year, CO2 emissions could increase by a staggering 4.52 million metric tons. In its drive to take the biofuel industry down a peg, Big Oil has perfected the art of misdirection. They point to the corn fields while ignoring the fact that a third of the crop used for ethanol production ultimately finds itself back on the market in the form of nutritious distillers grains for livestock. They point to food prices, asserting that increased ethanol production is responsible for higher grocery store bills yet fail to mention that consumer food prices today are below the long-term historical average, or that analysis by the Department of Agriculture shows that only 17 cents of every dollar spent on food pays for the raw farm commodities and ingredients in the food. What’s more, they avoid the fact that the trail of higher dollars at the grocery store can be traced back to their own industry; a 2013 World Bank report found that “[m]ost of the contribution to food price changes from 1997-2004 to 2005-12 comes from the price of crude oil…” The petroleum companies are afraid of biofuels because biofuels are not only cleaner and cheaper, but are spreading in popularity. A Morning Consult poll this month found that 62 percent of Americans support the RFS. Ethanol blending by U.S. gasoline refiners and blenders hit a record high of 13.3 billion gallons in 2014. Last year’s ethanol production total of 14.3 billion gallons was also a record, one that 2015 is on track to surpass. There should not be any illusion that Big Oil does not completely dominate the U.S. fuel market, but the fact that it sees ethanol as a threat is a sign that it knows the American people recognize a superior product when they see one, one that has the potential to one day put an end to a fueling infrastructure built for a time since past. Americans shouldn’t be mistaken; dirtier air with fewer choices at the pump is what Big Oil is selling. In its house of mirrors, the oil giants will trick you into seeing an alternate reality where oil spills are few and our security isn’t tied to energy sources overseas. This Halloween, break a few mirrors, and don’t let Big Oil take you for a ride. It’s not worth the price of admission.