Wednesday, March 7

Wednesday Propaganda: Shell Game

A recent NPR piece entitled "U.S. A Net Gas Exporter for First Time in Decades" paints a promising picture. But my newly hired research analyst, Bjorn—a Dutch-catholic refugee from Mobile, Alabama—has discovered a a gaping hole in NPR's factual representation of the universe. Darn you Bjorn! It sounded so good. You're fired!

Factually, being a gasoline exporter is vastly different than being a petroleum exporter. It's similar to the distinction between a logger and a carpenter.

While I surely hope the truth is that we are exporting petroleum extracted within our own borders, I have no reservation saying it very well could be that this "surplus" gasoline is being refined from petroleum imported from across the seas.

What is truly revealing is that the US does not have the capacity to move refined products within our own borders from places where gasoline is refined to places where it is consumed (destroyed).

NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten puts it this way:

The United States is both an exporter and an importer of gasoline at the same time. It's like we're two different countries. A lot of the oil produced in the U.S. gets refined into gasoline in Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi. It then goes into pipelines for distribution to East Coast states and other areas where gas is consumed.

Rob Smith, a senior analyst at PFC Energy, adds:

These pipelines are essentially filled to the brim, so to speak, and yet the East Coast markets still don't have enough gasoline. So they're forced to import.

What does this say about our presumed energy independence? The fact that we're exporting gasoline because we can't move it within our own borders effectively doesn't exactly tell a promising tale. We can't meet our own demand, even though we're producing a surplus. We'll never be energy independent as a nation if we can't solve this logistical problem.

But is this really a shock? Our country is polarized on the silliest of issues: mass transit is bad versus mass transit is good, consume versus conserve, help the poor versus help the rich, etc, etc. No, I don't think these are truly silly issues, but our polarization is silly. We're blinded to common sense by policy propaganda. Special interests rule our lives by keeping us divided and misinformed.

Until we can unite toward a common vision and goal this country is doomed to failure in such painfully stupid ways. You would think our oil producing regions would be better connected to our oil consuming regions. Some would say that being a net exporter is not a failure, but in light of the fact that every US president since Richard Nixon has promised to bring about American energy independence and we have so far failed says otherwise. So we're talking out of the side of our collective faces? We want energy independence, but we also want capitalistic success? Are those two ideas becoming more and more mutually exclusive?

The piece closes on a bittersweet note, explaining some of the factors that have led to our current conundrum:

In part it's because the U.S. is producing more gasoline; more importantly, we're consuming less; ethanol is displacing some gasoline; we have more efficient cars. Plus, we are driving less, for reasons ranging from the economic downturn to the aging of the U.S. population.

So we're driving less because the economy is down and The Man is taking away our licenses as we become aged menaces upon the highways and byways. But, we are driving less, and we're producing vehicles that are more sustainable.

Of course, if we all rode bikes...

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