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By Robert Rapier on Jun 20, 2011 with 79 responses

Media Misinformation Promotes Dysfunctional Energy Policy

Over the years I have had some enlightening interactions with the news media. I have gradually developed the view that many in the media believe their role is more to entertain than to inform. My naive younger self believed that the media generally presents objective information, which is important to ensure that a well-informed general public makes rational choices. A public that is well-informed about energy issues can elect leaders who legislate sound energy policy. A public that is consistently misinformed on energy issues will elect leaders who legislate the kind of policies that have led us to where we are today.

Here I will share three incidents in which the news media put sensationalism ahead of objective journalism. In cases like these it would appear that the media is attempting to entertain rather than inform. The first incident took place about six years ago. I was contacted by a journalist from one of the big East Coast newspapers about a story they were doing over whether refiners purposely withhold gasoline supplies in the spring to drive up prices. I exchanged a number of e-mails with the writer, and finally spoke with him on the phone for an hour. I explained both sides; going into detail of why people think this is true (the spring correlation between low inventories and higher prices) and then I explained to him about the transition from winter to summer gasoline and how that plays a role. (See Refining 101: Winter Gasoline).

The ‘No Notification’ Red Flag

I have since learned that when an author promises to notify you when a story publishes — and then fails to do so — it is probably because they are feeling a bit sheepish over the final version of the article. I suspect in many cases their intentions were to write an objective, informative article, but then an editor took a look and said “We are in the business of selling papers. Dry facts don’t sell papers. Now go back and write something that titillates. That sells papers.”

That was exactly what happened in this case. Instead of presenting the facts objectively, the writer laid out half the story exactly as I had framed it. He brought up points that I had brought up to him — but only insofar as it supported a specific narrative. He pointed out — because I had shown him where to find the information — that each spring refinery utilization and gasoline inventories decline, and fuel prices rise. Instead of then taking the opportunity to fill in the information gap of why that is, this became the core of his evidence that oil companies are indeed ripping people off.

Not only was I not quoted after spending a great deal of time helping him with his story (again, many of his points came verbatim from our conversation), I only received a passing reference as an anonymous person with a minority viewpoint: “Some sources believe that market forces explain these changes” — without then putting any details behind that viewpoint. By withholding key facts, a very slanted story was produced; one that would have the tendency to keep the public angry over high gas prices while missing an opportunity to explain some of the factors behind the price increases. The newspaper made the decision to titillate rather than educate.

Nate Hagens on ExxonMobil’s Profits

My friend Nate Hagens — previously a lead editor at The Oil Drum — had a similar recent experience. Nate is no cheerleader for the oil industry. He has spent a lot of his energy educating people on the threat posed by dependence on oil. Following the most recent quarter of ExxonMobil’s profits, Nate was contacted about writing an editorial for a major newspaper on that topic. But instead of going on a rant, Nate provided a well-written article that explained why ExxonMobil is so profitable. The problem was that it wasn’t sensationalistic. It didn’t scream righteous indignation at ExxonMobil or call for a government takeover of the company. He explained that their profit margins were not unusually high. He explained how small a player ExxonMobil really is the global oil market, and that their profits were an indicator that we greatly demand their product.

The editor rejected the article: “This isn’t what I am looking for.” If you want to read the article that was rejected, you can find it here: Complaining about mosquito bites while a crocodile bites our leg. It would have been one of the most informative articles that this newspaper had published about energy, but would have failed to stir up a public frenzy over ExxonMobil’s profits — clearly what the newspaper was after.

Hot Air About ‘Hot Gas’

And that brings me to the latest exchange I had with a reporter, and the reason for writing this article. I was just so appalled by the article he wrote, I decided to write this article highlighting how some in the media operate — and why that helps keep our collective energy IQ at such a low level. I believe that our low energy IQ is precisely why our energy policy is so dysfunctional, and I believe the media bears direct responsibility.

A reporter from another East Coast newspaper (all three of these situations described involved newspapers in New York or D.C.) left a voice mail with Consumer Energy Report and also reached out to me on Twitter (@rrapier) about a story he was working on. We finally connected, and he explained that he was investigating some of the “hot gas lawsuits” that are working their way through the courts. Since I had written about this issue before (See Hot Gas Lawsuit in Utah, Hot Gas Issue Heating Up, Hot Gas is a Bunch of Hot Air, A Lost Litigation Opportunity, and The Lawyers Win on Hot Gas) — the reporter contacted me for my insight into the story.

I won’t go through the entire history on this; if you are interested you can read through some of the links. In a nutshell, a gallon of gasoline is typically sold based on a standard temperature of 60 degrees F. If the temperature of the gasoline is higher when you pump it into your car, the gallon weighs less, and vice versa. The premise is that consumers are getting less than they pay for, and this amounts to unfair enrichment by oil companies.

There is a consumer organization based in California that is a front for lawyers who make their living suing people. They have created an organization for the sole purpose of stirring up public anger against oil companies. The idea is to get people angry enough to sue, and then these lawyers might get a piece of that action. They decided that this hot gas issue just might be worth a class action lawsuit, so they have beaten the drum on this issue for years. In support of that, they issue frequent press releases in which they quote themselves as experts. There isn’t a technically competent person on their staff, which consists of liberal arts majors — journalism, political science, sociology, and several lawyers — but they do have a Litigation Director.

Despite their transparent motives, the question should be answered of whether their argument is valid. Are consumers being cheated? This is where we run into a bit of a problem. Many attorneys have made a nice living on poor science. Lawyers made millions suing on behalf of women who had gotten silicone breast implants and then claimed that they were causing autoimmune disorders. Ironically, it was Ralph Nader, another “consumer advocate”, who first sounded the warning bells in the 1980′s by claiming that silicone breast implants were causing cancer. Lawyers lined up, put ads in major newspapers across the country inviting women to sue, and they enriched themselves — unjustly as it turned out.

During the 1990′s, even as plaintiffs and their attorneys collected millions of dollars from the lawsuits, numerous studies found no increased risk of autoimmune disease in women with silicone implants. The lawsuits continued to come, but the plaintiffs started to lose them in greater numbers as the science failed to support their case. More studies came out showing no connection between the implants and the autoimmune diseases. Finally in 2006 the Food and Drug Administration quietly ended the moratorium on the implants. But the lawyers got to keep their unjust enrichment.

There are a great many parallels between that story and the hot gas story. The bottom line is that plaintiffs are pushing bad science and/or naive economic thinking, and lawyers are encouraging that in the hopes of cashing in. The result will be higher costs for everyone. The premise of the hot gas issue is that consumers are being short-changed; that is they are receiving a smaller quantity of gasoline when their gas is “hot.” Let’s assume for the sake of argument that this is true; consumers are being shortchanged. Let’s assume that adding temperature-correcting equipment means more gasoline for consumers. Now who — outside of these law firms masquerading as “consumer advocates” — thinks that this won’t cause gas prices to increase?

Therein lies the fundamental flaw in the hot gas issue. If retailers have to install new equipment — and that ultimately translates into you the consumer getting more gasoline per gallon — you are going to pay for both the new equipment and the incremental gasoline. Only the incredibly naive can believe that retailers will just eat that money. So lawyers are once more engaged in a practice that will drive up costs for everyone, and the primary beneficiaries will be the lawyers themselves and the makers of the temperature compensation equipment.

I walked the reporter through the science and the economics of the issue. In fact, he told me that he learned during his investigation that Hawaii does have temperature compensation equipment — but they also consistently have the highest gas prices in the nation. (As I explained to him, that isn’t the main reason why gas prices in Hawaii are so high, but it undoubtedly adds to the cost of doing business).

I told him that he didn’t have to take my word for any of this, since the California Energy Commission had concluded exactly the same thing when they looked at the issue:

The California Energy Commission says forcing retailers to install temperature-compensation devices on fuel pumps would drive up the price.

“If retail station owners and operators continue (are) to grow and remain profitable, then retail station owners will most likely raise their fuel prices to compensate for selling fewer ‘gallons,’” commissioners wrote in the report.

“If this is the case, then expected benefits for retail motorists will be essentially zero.”

The journalist said that he would let me know when the story published, but he expected it to be only a few days. A week later, I began to be suspicious, and so I started watching for the article. When it was finally published, it turned out to be incredibly biased. The article read as if it had been written by the consumer organization that has been pushing the lawsuits. Their claims went unchallenged. The journalist mentioned Hawaii’s temperature compensation equipment as if this had resolved the issue, but conveniently left out the bit about Hawaii’s high gas prices. More importantly, he left out the decision and rationale of the California Energy Commission in ruling against the installation of the temperature compensation equipment.

The article left out the fact that fewer than 10% of gas stations are owned or operated by major oil companies, once more leaving in place the implication that people are being cheated by Big Oil. (And that is bound to make juries angry). The journalist calculated gas losses based on a 90 degree gasoline temperature — far higher than the average temperature at which gas is delivered. (In fact, the National Institute of Standards and Technology looked into this and found the average temperature of fuel across the country was 64.7 degrees F. Therefore, anyone basing calculations off of 90 degrees is guilty of misleading people at a minimum).

The article read not as an objective piece of journalism, but rather as a hatchet job from someone with an agenda. Objective journalists don’t omit important facts. They don’t authoritatively quote people who are being paid to promote a position. They don’t base the mathematics of their position on extremes and imply that the extremes are actually fairly normal. They don’t characterize 75 degree temperatures as “toasty.” (It would be just as biased — but actually closer to the truth — to characterize 75 degrees as hypothermia-inducing).

Conclusion

Some might argue that perhaps it is my own lack of objectivity leading me to conclude that the article is biased. To that I would say that one shouldn’t confuse having an opinion with lack of objectivity. I never went to journalism school where I might expect that objective writing is taught, but to me that seems intuitively the best way to argue a point: State your opinion without resorting to misleading and distorted arguments, and cover the other side of the argument in the same way. And it will always be my goal as a writer to argue as factually and objectively as I can — something this journalist failed to do.

It is in fact my opinion that hot gas is a non-issue for consumers (and it was also my opinion that lawyers were pushing bad science on the silicone breast implant issue). It is my opinion that there will be zero savings for consumers if retailers are required to install temperature compensation equipment. But I can present that case objectively, and without resorting to straw man arguments. Were I to argue as this reporter did, I could point to Hawaii as proof that temperature compensation equipment will raise the cost of your gasoline. I would omit the major reasons that Hawaii’s gas prices are high, just as the reporter omitted key facts from his article.

I don’t personally care if temperature compensation equipment is ultimately required on gasoline pumps. That isn’t the issue that annoys me. What bothers me is that the issue is promoting misinformation, and is being pursued due to extreme naivety and greedy lawyers looking to extort for their “services.” I just wish we could have a system in place that would reward the lawyers only based on the actual demonstrated savings, but then would financially penalize them if the “savings” turn out to be higher costs.

In cases like this, the media reminds me of politics. Many politicians lie, pander, and promote misinformation to get elected. I have come to the conclusion that many media outlets do the same to sell papers. The casualty in both cases is a citizenry whose views on energy are perpetually distorted, and that leads to a perpetually dysfunctional energy policy.

  1. By rate-crimes on June 20, 2011 at 8:09 am

    Good thoughts.

    Though, one must consider that it is the selling of advertising space, rather than the selling of ‘papers’ that predominantly drives media economics.  Are editors and journalists serving first their readers?  Can a filter of such design be anything but distorted towards the most powerful economic forces?  Who benefits most from a “dysfunctional” energy policy that can do little more than sustain a status quo?  Does an “energy policy” even exist?

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  2. By mac on June 20, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Robert said:

    I have come to the conclusion that many media outlets do the same to sell papers.

    Exactly. I got so sick of the media “hyping” the B>P> oil accident that I finally just refused to turn on the nightly news. This media frenzy went on for weeks and weeks.

    If you want energy, then there are going to be industrial accidents. If you want to drive, there is always the chance you will be killed in a car accident. Once again, if you want energy, then there are consequences. (accidents, etc.)

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  3. By Steve Funk on June 20, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    In the first Republican presidential debate, the answers as to how candidates would deal with high gasoline prices were disappointing. Every candidate said it was caused by a combination of speculation and failure to do enough domestic oil drilling. I kept waiting for a candidate to say that in the long run, gasoline prices are going up no matter which one of us is elected.

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  4. By mac on June 20, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Robert,

     

    Why doesn”t the media get some-one on their programs on Sunday morning that actually knows a little bit about energy ?

    Are we simply “nuts” or have we absolutely lost our marbles ? 

     

    I am so sick of the “talking heads” (journalists) on TV.  For the most part their so-called “energy” credentials amount to nothing more than a degree in Journalism or English.

     

    They actually know jack-diddley-squat about energy.   George Will gives me heartburn.

     

    mac

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  5. By rrapier on June 20, 2011 at 11:16 am

    mac said:

    Robert,

     

    Why doesn”t the media get some-one on their programs on Sunday morning that actually knows a little bit about energy ?

    Are we simply “nuts” or have we absolutely lost our marbles ? 


     

    I often ask myself how we got to this point. I linked to a story on America’s energy IQ in this essay; the survey demonstrated that people are appallingly ignorant about energy. Worse, they don’t want to know anything about it. Most people only care insofar as it impacts how much they pay at the pump.

    RR

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  6. By thomas398 on June 20, 2011 at 11:55 am

    RR,

    I wish a right-leaning news paper would write an article demonstrating the trend of U.S. oil production since November 1960 and the fact that this decline is likely to continue.  This myth that the U.S. can drill its way to energy independence with lighter regulation and greater subsidies should be put to rest.   We need to accept our declining oil production and rising oil consumption and get a non partisan solution. 

     

    If you want energy, then there are going to be industrial accidents.

    Mac,

      I think the media over covers everything. The line by line coverage of the Anthony trail is a good example.  I do take issue with you dismiissing the BP spill as an inevitable event of industrial progress.    This was not a Challenger type accident where there was a technology failure or a natural disaster like the Alabama tornadoes. The BP oil spill was caused by gross negligence. Corners were cut to save money, costing lives and hurting the gulf economy.  Try saying “there are going to be accidents” in the living rooms of people who lost family members and gulf fishermen.  People had a right to be mad. Energy production has to be done responsibly.  This makes sense morally and economically, just ask BP. 

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  7. By mac on June 20, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    Thomas 398
    I agree. B.P. was un-doubtedly negligent.. Schlumberger warned BP about some of the problems with BP’s “Go, Go, Go” philosophy, but they were apparently ignored.

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  8. By mac on June 20, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Let’s go ask Paris Hilton what her favorite oil company is. That should be “newsworthy”

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  9. By Optimist on June 20, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    My naive younger self believed that the media generally presents objective information, which is important to ensure that a well-informed general public makes rational choices. A public that is well-informed about energy issues can elect leaders who legislate sound energy policy. A public that is consistently misinformed on energy issues will elect leaders who legislate the kind of policies that have led us to where we are today. &
    We are in the business of selling papers. Dry facts don’t sell papers. Now go back and write something that titillates. That sells papers.”

    I believe the issue is larger than energy, or even journalism. This is a natural result of the American post-cold war motto: In capitalism we trust. To paraphrase Churchill: Capitalism, like democracy, is the worst possible system, except for the alternatives.

    Americans would do well to reflect on the fact that capitalism isn’t a cure-all, and that the unquestioning devotion to it is extracting a huge cost from Joe Sixpack, while the prostitutians and their lobbyists laugh all the way to the (bailed out) bank.

    I believe that our low energy IQ is precisely why our energy policy is so dysfunctional, and I believe the media bears direct responsibility.

    I don’t buy the low energy IQ. Some of the questions that make up that particular IQ test are highly technical, and largely irrelevant. You could make up a similar test for any industry you fancy, and prove how low America’s water IQ, food IQ, air quality IQ, solid waste IQ, etc. etc. is.

    Another factor: productivety gains mean that most Americans are overworked, and when they finally get home, they are looking for entertainment, rather than news… Earl, turn on American Idol!

    The bottom line is that we can’t all be experts at everything, and the more economically developed we become, the worse this gets, as each of us knows more about less aka the more we are all allowed to specialize.

    Conclusion: The energy challenge is too complex for government (and by extension voters) to solve. DoE? Don’t make me laugh: these highly educated bird-brains are still perpetuating the myth the corn ethanol is a great solution, and worthy of a mere $6 billion a year investment (see our friend Rufus’ comments on that).

    The best thing the government can do is to get rid of ALL subsidies, and level the playing field as much as possible. Keep environmental protection is place, lest we all get poisoned. Then stand back and let the free market work this out. Time to fasten your seatbelt.

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  10. By rrapier on June 20, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    Optimist said:

    I don’t buy the low energy IQ. Some of the questions that make up that particular IQ test are highly technical, and largely irrelevant.


     

    Some were and some weren’t. One question was to name the country from which we import the most oil. People tend to overestimate how much oil we get from Saudi relative to Canada. I have also seen surveys where people couldn’t name a renewable fuel. In general, I find people mostly uninformed about energy.

    RR

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  11. By rrapier on June 20, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    Optimist said:

    I don’t buy the low energy IQ. Some of the questions that make up that particular IQ test are highly technical, and largely irrelevant. You could make up a similar test for any industry you fancy, and prove how low America’s water IQ, food IQ, air quality IQ, solid waste IQ, etc. etc. is.


     

    Here, try this one.

    39% of respondents couldn’t name a fossil fuel. A majority – 51% – couldn’t name an alternative energy source. 65% thought that most of our oil imports come from the Middle East. The report sums up the problem quite well: Without certain facts, the public can’t judge what’s realistic and what’s not, and that’s bound to hamper constructive decision making.

    RR

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  12. By Optimist on June 20, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    39% of respondents couldn’t name a fossil fuel. A majority – 51% – couldn’t name an alternative energy source. 65% thought that most of our oil imports come from the Middle East.

    You mean Jay Leno’s man-in-the-street interviews are for real? Surprised

    Well, you do a sterling job of educating the public, RR. One can only hope it actually makes a difference.

    Even so, I have my doubts about the government’s ability to contribute much that is useful. That is why I believe the government should do its best to level the playing field and get rid of subsidies. Unfortunately, the lobbyists are extremely powerful right now.

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  13. By mac on June 20, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    An industry that is nearly 150 years old ? And still can’t stand on its own two feet without tax breaks, oil depletion allowances and government grants for R&D

    Give me a break.!!!!

    Aahh, err, hmmmmmm…….

    I think we are talking about the oil industry……….

    “N”est pas ?

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  14. By Optimist on June 20, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    An industry that is nearly 5,000 years old ? And still can’t stand on its own two feet without tax breaks, oil depletion allowances and government grants for R&D

    Give me a break.!!!!

    Aahh, err, hmmmmmm…….

    I think we are talking about the ethanol industry……….

    ROFLOL!Cool

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  15. By mac on June 20, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    I think we are talking about the ethanol industry……….

    ROFLOL!Cool

    Yup. gasoline is just a “Johnny come lately” And, apparently, we are going to run out of it

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  16. By Benny BND Cole on June 20, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    RR’s commentary on media is sadly accurate, though there are some good reporters out there.

    If you want to understand the energy sector, you have to read the blogs, especially RR’s. The same thing has happened in many parts of economic policy.

    However, one could also cite many “sensationalistic” blogs, and I would include the Oil Drum in that mix.

    In the end, the consumer of news has to be diligent. Most people want to watch TV shows, and refine politics down to Weinergate.

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  17. By Wendell Mercantile on June 20, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    And, apparently, we are going to run out of it.

    But that is completely in the hands of the users.

    We will run out — but only if we rely only on gasoline, and we keep using it in such a reckless manner and at such a profligate rate. (Why only this morning I saw a little old lady who probably weighed no more than 110 lbs driving a big, 6,000+ lb SUV. Her body mass could not have been more than 2% of the entire mass for which she was burning gas to push down the street. That my friends is profligate.)

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  18. By mac on June 20, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    Optomist.

     

    When  you run out of gas, I guess you can always crawl on your belly through the sand to Rufus’ house.

     

    Rufus seems like a kindly man and I’m sure he would gladly give you a couple galllons of “white lightning”, so that you could be on your way to “Nowhere”

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  19. By mac on June 20, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    I agree with you Wendell. We use too much gas in the U.S.

     

    Next ???

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  20. By Rufus on June 20, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Why should people be concerned? Fox News, whose 2nd largest investor (and, possibly, Largest “Cash” investor) is Saudi Prince Alwaleed, assures them that there is plenty of oil, and that renewables (especially, ethanol) is a “joke.”

    Ordinary people don’t have time for all this “inside energy.” They have lives to manage.

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  21. By mac on June 20, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    Rufus.

    I watched hours of videos from the last OPEC conference. (The one just before the very latest one)

    Constant “dissing”: of bio-fuels. I guess that’s understandable since they are in a competing industry.

    Now that Ecuador and Ghana have joined OPEC, the situation is even more precarious, since OPEC now controls 78% of the world’s known oil reserves.

    All the “oil fanatics” can throw their cowboy hats into the air and shout :Yipeeeee: and “Drill, Baby, Drill”.

    I laugh at them.

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  22. By addoeh on June 20, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    There are lots of problems, both with the media and the people who read articles.  The media is a business and they have to sell print.  This is especially true today for newspapers, since very few people under the age of 50 actually read a newspaper or watch the nightly news.  Under the age of 50, people use the internet to get their news.  With both groups, there are many problems.  With those that rely on newspapers and the nightly news, they are at the mercy of what those organizations categorize as newsworthy.  With those that rely on the internet, they may only read the headlines or skim through the article to get their news, since there is so much information available out there.  This is on top of the fact that almost everything/everyone has agenda to push, no matter if you’re getting your news from Fox/CNN/ABC/MSNBC/etc, or a blog on the internet.

     

    Against this backdrop comes energy.  When most people see that oil companies are making huge profits and those same people see that the price is gas is cutting into their paycheck more and more, they blame the oil companies as it is an easy scapegoat as it is, what they see, a pretty linear connection.  The media is only too happy to amp up this anger.  To educate the masses about what actually goes into the price of oil is isn’t all that interesting and most people aren’t going to pay attention.   The oil companies deserve some blame for this, but so does everyone else, including the government, speculators, and consumers themselves (of which we all are).   I’m glad this blog exists, where thoughful dialogue of the real issues and real solutions exists.  But this blog is never going to become mainstream, and the public is going to be less informed for it.

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  23. By Wendell Mercantile on June 20, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    When most people see that oil companies are making huge profits and those same people see that the price is gas is cutting into their paycheck more and more…

    The reason the oil companies are making such huge profits is because so many people want (and are even anxious) to buy what they’re selling.

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  24. By rrapier on June 20, 2011 at 11:33 pm

    Addoeh said:

    I’m glad this blog exists, where thoughful dialogue of the real issues and real solutions exists.  But this blog is never going to become mainstream, and the public is going to be less informed for it.


     

    I have been asked to write a book. I have written a number of book chapters (five at this point), and have been approached before about a book, but this time I will probably go through with it.

    The problem is “How do I present ideas in a format that will interest the mainstream?” Is that even possible? If I thought it were, I would start writing today. But what the editor and I are struggling with right now is specifically what the book will be about such that people are interested. It will be about educating people on energy, but I don’t think people will buy “What You Need to Know About Energy.”

    Any ideas? What topics will pique the public’s interest, and how can I frame them?

    Cheers, Robert

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  25. By mac on June 20, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    Johnny,

    There’s a lot of underwater archeology going on at FSU (Florida State University.

    Interesting stuff.

    John

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  26. By Rufus on June 20, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    It was a dark, and stormy night . . .. . . . .. .. :)

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  27. By mac on June 21, 2011 at 12:34 am

    Optimist said

    An industry that is nearly 5,000 years old ? And still can’t stand on its own two feet without tax breaks, oil depletion allowances and government grants for R&D

    Give me a break.!!!!

    Aahh, err, hmmmmmm…….

    I think we are talking about the ethanol industry……….

    ROFLOL!Cool

    No, Optimist we are not talking about the ethanol industry, We are talking about the oil industry.

    For the approximately 6,000 years of known human history, about 5,800 of them existed without the internal combustion engine. Alcohol will be around long after oil is gone.

    No, dude, we are talking about oil !!!

    Not bio-fuels or stuff that you can buy at the liquor store.

    We are talking about oil, that pathetic stuff that makes millionaires into billionaires.

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  28. By rate-crimes on June 21, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Media bashing in this forum is as pervasive as the media bashing that pervades media.

    A strange paradox, no?

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  29. By rrapier on June 21, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Rate Crimes said:

    Media bashing in this forum is as pervasive as the media bashing that pervades media.

    A strange paradox, no?


     

    It’s funny, because I was thinking about that today. One of my favortite shows is Jon Stewart, and he spends about half of his time bashing the media. So as others have noted, the problem with the media is certainly not limited to energy. Media bashing seems to be pretty popular sport. :)

    I guess at the end of the day, the media is just pandering to the sort of thing we demand. If there was no interest in sensationalism, perhaps it would fade away. But I won’t hold my breath.

    RR

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  30. By paul-n on June 21, 2011 at 2:22 am

    but I don’t think people will buy “What You Need to Know About Energy.”

    Any ideas? What topics will pique the public’s interest, and how can I frame them?

    Well, to steal a line from someone at The Oil Drum, if you want to pique the interest of younger people, I suggest you find a way to put “vampire” in the title.  

     

    Seriously though, that is a tough one.  There are so many books out there about energy, peak oil etc.  If you are trying to appeal to the interested/serious observers, like thos of use here, your book will likely by quite different from if you are trying to appeal to joe six pack.  You will then face that same problem as the newspaper editor – needing to have something that captures people’s interest/emotion/imagination while still being accurate.  Obviously the editors solved that by discarding accuracy, and that seem to be the technique of choice for politicians, lobbyists etc. 

     

    That said, I think Jeff Rubin’s book,  Why your world is about to get a whole lot smaller, is a good example of a crossover.

    David Mackay’s Sustainable energy, without the hot air, is also a great book for numbers geeks like me, but wasn’t that popular with the general public – I think that’s why he put it out as a free e-book.  Still, it did land him a job as the sustainable energy adviser to the UK government…

     

     

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  31. By moiety on June 21, 2011 at 3:03 am

    I am actually a little surprised with this article.

     

    While I agree with the content, singling out one stream of mis-information is presenting a limited picture. We can better understand why mis-info is out there if we consider a broader scope.

    I generally lump mis-info into two categories; incorrect and ill-informed. Which one you decide to use as a label for a particular story is clearly your own opinion.

    The above examples that Robert lists would be in incorrect. The correct information was made available but the writers purposely decided to ignore this data. However I would also lump in people like Range and others here who made claims of low fuel prices. They had no demonstrable proof that this could occur but decided to scale up their predictions anyway. I also consider other example like assertions that solar energy is near market parity to be part of this group as the feed in tariffs for solar are well known. One could even consider Merck’s vioxx scandal here as well.

    Mis-informed is where people follow a line of reasoning without thinking it through; so say another company quoting said assertion about solar power. Another similar example in this vein; we have loads of wind power so we should develop it. What about cost? Another example would be claiming that a particular invention is very important to the field of study (i.e. special type of battery) because it is better than other but similar types of battery. The comparison here fails to consider how said battery compares to the best available. That type is rife in journals and while not untrue per say, it does not consider the entire truth.

     

    The overall point is that the media is not the only culprit in providing mis-information. Science based companies are also providing a better picture than is available from their product. The bottom line is that funding often follows hype. People want to tout their achievements.

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  32. By Mercy Vetsel on June 21, 2011 at 4:20 am

    That’s why I don’t read their garbage any more and come straight to sources like this for intelligent, informed analysis. By the way, I’m curious as to why you don’t call them out by name.

    These hacks and clowns deserve to be exposed publicly. To cite one example, Dahr Jamail at Al Jazeera exposed himself as one of the worse examples incompetent (or duplicitous) journalists that I’ve read in a long time, referencing a completely fabricated fact, “a 35 per cent spike in infant mortality in northwest cities that occurred after the Fukushima meltdown, and may well be the result of fallout from the stricken nuclear plant.”

    Now THAT would be shocking, but it turns out that it’s complete garbage. There was no 35% spike, but rather a complete fabrication from a well-known anti-nuke activist:

    http://nuclearpoweryesplease.o…..h-mangano/

    Now I wouldn’t really care one bit about what Dahr Jamail and “Al Jazeera” has to say except that his alarming deceits made it into a blog that I read and respect. But since I had to go to the trouble of digesting the fraud that he and his editors are flinging into the public realm, I think he should be called out by name.

    If some reporter plays you for a fool and then deceives the public, you are honor-bound to set the record straight and now thanks to the internet you have the forum to do so. Public ignorance on these big policies issues is deadly and these people can and should be shamed into acting better than adolescent blog posters trolling for attention.

    BTW, I read your blog regularly and I’ll guarantee you that *I* never read whatever sloppy, sensationalist, low quality publication that he’s writing for. But if you’re going to call out the inflammatory-news-for-idiots writers and their publications, then let’s hear the specifics.

    -Mercy

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  33. By rrapier on June 21, 2011 at 5:17 am

    Mercy Vetsel said:

    These hacks and clowns deserve to be exposed publicly. To cite one example, Dahr Jamail at Al Jazeera exposed himself as one of the worse examples incompetent (or duplicitous) journalists that I’ve read in a long time, referencing a completely fabricated fact, “a 35 per cent spike in infant mortality in northwest cities that occurred after the Fukushima meltdown, and may well be the result of fallout from the stricken nuclear plant.”


     

    I had seen that, but didn’t know the real story. I followed your link; yes that looks like people with an agenda. I think it’s fine to have an agenda, but it isn’t fine to be selective with the facts and data in support of that agenda. I think when that happens it should be loudly exposed and the guilty person should take a hit to their credibility.

    RR

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  34. By rrapier on June 21, 2011 at 5:19 am

    Moiety said:

    However I would also lump in people like Range and others here who made claims of low fuel prices. They had no demonstrable proof that this could occur but decided to scale up their predictions anyway. 


     

    I actually started to use this example in the essay, because there are also numerous examples where the media simply regurgitated the claims of companies like Range Fuels, while doing zero due diligence. This is one of the biggest reasons that people don’t recognize our potentially serious energy problem; because the media always has reports of “the solution to our energy problems.”

    RR

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  35. By paul-n on June 21, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    One of my favortite shows is Jon Stewart, and he spends about half of his time bashing the media.

    And he spends  the other half bashing the politicians, and its not like either group don’t give him a shortage of material to work with.

     

    Sensationalism sells, and has always done so.   but now the traditional media is having to compete with internet media, and one of the ways they are doing that is amping up the sensationalism level.

     

    Walter Cronkhite was all abut protecting the “integrity” of the tv news, and observed that the 24 news channels traded that off in always trying to break the stories first, and have new stories to break.  I am sure he would be even more dissapointed with the wider shift now from “news” to “analysis and opinion”, which as we see, makes the actual news/facts ever harder to find.

    Small wonder the younger generation is losing interest completely – when everyone is telling them what to think, many just give up thinking altogether – life is less stressful that way.

     

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  36. By Optimist on June 21, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Optomist. (sic)

     When  you run out of gas, I guess you can always crawl on your belly through the sand to Rufus’ house.

     Rufus seems like a kindly man and I’m sure he would gladly give you a couple galllons of “white lightning”, so that you could be on your way to “Nowhere”

    Thanks for the idea, Mac, but I drive a diesel, so white lightning does me no good. Used cooking oil aka WVO, OTOH…

    Rufus, are you producing your own “white lightning” (yet)?

    Yup. gasoline is just a “Johnny come lately” And, apparently, we are going to run out of it

    Not only that, but in this case the new industry was able to grow like a weed, and do so without any(1) assistence from Uncle Sam. May we see that again, someday. One can only hope…

    Also, note that while crude oil is a finite resource, you are not going to wake up one Tuesday and find that (darn it!) there is suddenly *no* oil or oil-based products anywhere.

    It’s a slow (and painful) process of ever increasing prices, until (finally) some alternative steps in. The main threat: prostitutians trying to be clever (as a certain Mr. Nixon once did) fixing prices and giving us shortages…

    (1) Tax breaks available to all other industries hardly qualify as special treatment. Maybe it is time to rewrite the tax code. But that is a separate debate.

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  37. By Optimist on June 21, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Constant “dissing”: of bio-fuels. I guess that’s understandable since they are in a competing industry.

    Dissing or just stating the facts? If there is an industry that has every reason to run with a viable renewable fuel, it is Big Oil. They obviously pay close attention: they are looking for an opportunity to invest. But they didn’t get to $billions of profits by investing in every (full of hot air) breathless press release.

    Now that Ecuador and Ghana have joined OPEC, the situation is even more precarious, since OPEC now controls 78% of the world’s known oil reserves.

    All the more reason to think twice before blaming Exxon-Mobil for high oil prices.

    For the approximately 6,000 years of known human history, about 5,800 of them existed without the internal combustion engine. Alcohol will be around long after oil is gone.

    No, dude, we are talking about oil !!!

    Are we, dude? Or aren’t we?

    When the ICE came around ethanol was perfectly positioned to capture this market. Some expected it to do so, including one Henry Ford. Ever heard of him? Instead ethanol (a mature industy for 5,800 years, as you acknowledge) was pipped by an upstart oil industry. Don’t you love it when the underdog wins? Dude?
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  38. By Optimist on June 21, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    The problem is “How do I present ideas in a format that will interest the mainstream?” Is that even possible? If I thought it were, I would start writing today. But what the editor and I are struggling with right now is specifically what the book will be about such that people are interested. It will be about educating people on energy, but I don’t think people will buy “What You Need to Know About Energy.”

    Any ideas? What topics will pique the public’s interest, and how can I frame them?

    The post personal computer winner has to be: The idiot’s guide to oil/energy. You could also consider a short conclusion in the title (or subtitle), such as Why high gas prices are here to stay. Or When Big Oil isn’t big enough (make the “Big Oil” really big, and the second “big” much smaller). Add an interesting graphic.

    You might consider adding a political flavor, such a Tea flavor: Why Uncle Sam sucks at finding a viable atlernative for oil. But I suspect you’d rather stay away from such cheap shots. I would be sorely tempted to use Uncle Sam’s persistent alcoholism with a discussing of early taxes on alcohol and the whole prohibition saga, on to today’s sad joke of a DoE.

    Your gateway to capturing the public’s attention is by focussing on something they are all familiar with and a little irritated by: high gas prices.

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  39. By Optimist on June 21, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    When most people see that oil companies are making huge profits and those same people see that the price is gas is cutting into their paycheck more and more, they blame the oil companies as it is an easy scapegoat as it is, what they see, a pretty linear connection.

    Americans believe in accountability. That is generally a positive trait, responsible for much of this country’s success. But in this case there is an almost paranoid belief that as I suffer (suffer, I tell you) to pay for gasoline, some jack@ss somewhere is laughing his head off.

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  40. By Optimist on June 21, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    It’s funny, because I was thinking about that today. One of my favortite shows is Jon Stewart, and he spends about half of his time bashing the media. So as others have noted, the problem with the media is certainly not limited to energy. Media bashing seems to be pretty popular sport. :)

    I thinki the media’s biggest problem is the political correctness disease that has become so prevalent. If they host a debate between the flat earth society and someone from NASA, they will go to extrodenary lengths to make sure both sides get the same treatment, that nobody make a joke at one side’s expense, etc. Well, there is a price to be paid for acting stupid: people tend to ignore what you have to say. (This is also why conservative talk radio is so popular: these guys don’t care – they just say what many are thinking.)

    And shouting in urgent voice: “What you don’t know can kill you!” will only work for so long…

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  41. By Wendell Mercantile on June 21, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    When the ICE came around ethanol was perfectly positioned to capture this market. Some expected it to do so, including one Henry Ford. Ever heard of him? Instead ethanol (a mature industry for 5,800 years, as you acknowledge) was pipped by an upstart oil industry.

    Alcohol was the fuel of choice — until they realized the EROEI of gasoline was so much better, and therefore less expensive. It’s still better, that’s why ethanol needs subsidies to be competitive.

    It won’t always be that way, but that’s how it is now. The present EROEI of corn ethanol is barely better than one, while the EROEI of gasoline is somewhere around four or five — depending on where the oil came from and how suitable it is to refine.

    The two EROEIs will gradually come together, and when they do, alcohol fuels will again move into the forefront.

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  42. By Optimist on June 21, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    The present EROEI of corn ethanol is barely better than one…&

    The two EROEIs will gradually come together, and when they do, alcohol fuels will again move into the forefront.

    If your predictions are true, we’re screwed. After 6,000 years ethanol still has an EROEI of “barely better than one” (or worse, depending on who you believe). Not to worry, I’m sure there is a huge breaktrough, right around the corner… NOT! If ethanol is the only alternative, we’re toast.

    Luckily there are better contenders. Methanol is an obvious one.

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  43. By Optimist on June 21, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    until they realized the EROEI of gasoline was so much better, and therefore less expensive.

    Also, EROEI = NOT cost of production. It’s obviously a factor, but NOT the only one.

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  44. By Wendell Mercantile on June 21, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    Also, EROEI = NOT cost of production. It’s obviously a factor, but NOT the only one.

    You’re right — not the only one. When oil and gasoline moved to the front, in the Oklahoma and East Texas oil fields oil would gush out almost anywhere they stuck a pipe in the ground.

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  45. By Benny BND Cole on June 21, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    The whole EROEI is usually a crock, easily manipulated. That’s why we have a price signal–to tell us what a product costs (setting aside environmental costs).
    We can pervert the price signal through subsidy, or try to make it reflect eco-costs through taxes. Both actions take place in politicized arenas.
    At times, it seems hopeless.
    Rufus can show the way, I am sure.

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  46. By Wendell Mercantile on June 21, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    The whole EROEI is usually a crock, easily manipulated.

    Benny~

    EROEI can be manipulated — and certainly has in the past. But is still a useful metric. There is little dispute the EROEI of gasoline from oil is still better than that of corn ethanol, and back in the early part of the 20th century was very high — perhaps as much as 100 to 1, which explains why oil and gasoline and oil quickly displaced Ford’s plans to use alcohol in his cars.

    Ethanol will only began to get a strong toehold as the EROEI of gasoline continues to fall from its current level of about 5 to 1 to something close to that of ethanol. That will happen as oil gets more and more difficult to find, has to be drilled for and pumped from deeper depths, and extracted with energy-intensive methods from sources such as tar sands and shale.

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  47. By Rufus on June 21, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    Only when the price of gasoline is high enough that a large segment of the population becomes truly pissed off will ethanol start to take hold. That may be a couple of years down the road. It’s hard to say.

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  48. By rrapier on June 22, 2011 at 3:27 am

    Optimist said:

    The problem is “How do I present ideas in a format that will interest the mainstream?” Is that even possible? If I thought it were, I would start writing today. But what the editor and I are struggling with right now is specifically what the book will be about such that people are interested. It will be about educating people on energy, but I don’t think people will buy “What You Need to Know About Energy.”

    Any ideas? What topics will pique the public’s interest, and how can I frame them?

    The post personal computer winner has to be: The idiot’s guide to oil/energy. You could also consider a short conclusion in the title (or subtitle), such as Why high gas prices are here to stay. Or When Big Oil isn’t big enough (make the “Big Oil” really big, and the second “big” much smaller). Add an interesting graphic.


     

    I really like the subtitle “Why High Gas Prices are Here to Stay.”

    Combined with Paul’s earlier suggestion, a win-win title has to be “The Vampire’s Guide to Energy: Why High Gas Prices are Here to Stay.” :)

    RR

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  49. By paul-n on June 22, 2011 at 3:36 am

    keep in mind that EROEI is really just a process efficiency term.  It is useful for doing theoretical analyses, and also for CO2 accounting, but how many people/companies make their energy purchasing decisions based on EROEI, rather than price? 

     

    Price is a rough proxy for EROEI, but a better one as it captures all the resources (energy, materials, labour, capital, management, knowledge) needed to produce something. There might yet be a biofuel that has a spectacular EROEI, but can only be hand harvested, and the person who patented the process demands egregious licence fees – EROEI may be good, but it is priced out of contention.

     

    Using green wood as fuel for your wood gas car (see this Swedish govt video from WW2 – but never do what the guy does at 4:44 – stand upwind of your gasifier!) has a spectacular EROEI – but it’s damn inconvenient – that’s why they gave it up as soon as oil was available after the war.

     

    Rufus one line summary is correct.  Other than us technogeeks, most people and companies will make their decision on the basis of price, not EROEI.  This applies to ethanol, methanol, CNG etc.  No one cares what the EROEI is, they care  about the cost to them, and the convenience of it.  Fuel for the EV is cheap, and even if the EV is cheap to buy, the convenience factor is poor if the range is too short and/or the car too small.  Does it matter that the hydro electricity being used to charge it (in the PNW) has an EROEI of 100:1 or more?

    It will be interesting to see, if gasoline prices do rocket up, whether E85 follows them or not.  This would be really interesting in the absence of the RFS, as then the ethanol retailers would have to use a lower price as an incentive for buyers to use more of it.   That would be an interesting case to see where the supply/demand equlibrium would settle.  In the absence of an RFS, and on a btu basis, I would expect about a 10-15% discount for E85.  Which would still be profitable with gasoline at $5+/gal.

    Even more interesting would be the state of the nation and the election campaign with fuel at those prices…

     

     

     

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  50. By rrapier on June 22, 2011 at 9:21 am

    For the 3rd year in a row, the cellulosic ethanol requirement has been slashed by more than 90%.

    http://www.detnews.com/article…..e-for-2012

    RR

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  51. By Wendell Mercantile on June 22, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Only when the price of gasoline is high enough that a large segment of the population becomes truly pissed off will ethanol start to take hold. That may be a couple of years down the road. It’s hard to say.

    Not difficult at all to say. What is the price of corn today?

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  52. By Wendell Mercantile on June 22, 2011 at 10:55 am

    In March, President Barack Obama called for four new cellulosic ethanol refineries by 2013 as part of a strategy for cutting the nation’s imported oil use by one third from 2008 levels by 2025. “Over the next two years, we’ll help entrepreneurs break ground for four next-generation biorefineries — each with a capacity of more than 20 million gallons per year,” Obama said.

    At a hearing last month, Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., questioned why more progress hasn’t been made on cellulosic ethanol. “In the last five years, it doesn’t seem like we’ve made a lot of progress. I would have expected mass production by now,” he said. “What’s the holdup? What’s the problem?”

    Nebraska’s Representative Terry must be one of those who didn’t study chemistry, thermodynamics, economics, or logistics at school.

    The answer is that no one has yet figured out how to scale up a laboratory experiment to a full-scale production plant and do it economically and come to grips with the logistics needed to keep the refinery supplied with biomass..

    As for the president’s dreams of four biorefineries capable of each producing 20 million gallons a year. I live in a medium-sized Midwest city, and our city alone uses more fuel than that each year.

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  53. By Benny BND Cole on June 22, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    Paul N-

    You are right about EROEI. Consider a plam plantation–they are now learning to use palm fronds, both in boilers, and to sell to people who make medium density fibreboard.

    If they use the palm fronds in their own boilers, the palm oil EROEI goes up. If they sell the fronds for use in an MDF factory, it goes down.

    But, for sake of argument, let us suppose a palm plantation breaks even by selling fronds to MDF manufacturers, Then, we are getting the palm oil “for free.” The EROEI invested is not meaningful.

    Rufus has a point in that distillers grain (left over after making ethanol) has value.

    My point is that we should use price signals and carefully reviewed subsidies and taxes, to make energy policy. Of course, since taxes and subsidies are a heavily politicized process….

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  54. By Wendell Mercantile on June 22, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Rufus has a point in that distillers grain (left over after making ethanol) has value.

    The waste DDG does have value, but Rufus doesn’t have a point. The energy in that DDG is in the corn even before it is made into ethanol, so any leftover energy should not be in the accounting as a result of making ethanol. In fact, that there is waste energy leftover, shows the inefficiency of making ethanol using fermentation and distillation.

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  55. By Rufus on June 22, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Po ol’ Rufie. He don’ never get no “points.”

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  56. By paul-n on June 22, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Rufus, think of your points like money and taxes – as soon as you let it be know you have a point, someone will try to take it from you!

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  57. By paul-n on June 22, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    The answer is that no one has yet figured out how to scale up a laboratory experiment to a full-scale production plant and do it economically and come to grips with the logistics needed to keep the refinery supplied with biomass..

    Quite so – but it could be done if it were trying to compete with fuel at say $8/gal.  And there’s the problem, the objective is not really to replace oil fuel, it is to try to keep all fuel really cheap, and that is like trying to hold back the tide.

    And didn’t someone try that in the past?  

     

    As for the president’s dreams of four biorefineries capable of each producing 20 million gallons a year.

    Good to know the pressures of office haven;t stopped him dreaming.  Or these guys at Kior, who are getting ready for their IPO;

    Kior is planning to have a production capacity of approximately 250 million gallons of biofuel from four large biorefineries, including two Mississippi plants plus sites planned in Georgia and Texas. The Newton facility is designed to process around 1,500 tons of feedstock per day, which is three times the size of the company’s initial-scale commercial production facility in Columbus, Mississippi which started building in the first quarter. The $190 million Columbus plant will be in business by the second half of 2012.

    And (slightly re-cast by me);

    Kior recorded net losses of $5.87 million in 2008, $14.06 million in 2009, and $45.93 million in 2010, according to the latest S-1. The company could fund the expansion through a $1 billion loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. It got a term sheet for the guarantee last February 3.

    Exponentially increasing losses!  Really looks like a good investment opportunity – not.    Another Khosla backed scheme to pull money from gov and people. I think the IPO should really be relabelled as IPF, for initial public fleecing,  as that is increasingly what they seem to be.

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  58. By rrapier on June 22, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    Paul N said:

    Exponentially increasing losses!  Really looks like a good investment opportunity – not.    Another Khosla backed scheme to pull money from gov and people. I think the IPO should really be relabelled as IPF, for initial public fleecing,  as that is increasingly what they seem to be.


     

    Some people might have given Khosla the benefit of the doubt after Range, but if this one goes south his credibility is going to be shot. They are already out making unrealistic claims around the company, which was the pattern Range followed.

    RR

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  59. By Wendell Mercantile on June 22, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    The Newton facility is designed to process around 1,500 tons of feedstock per day…

    One 18-wheel semi-trailer can carry ~ 45,000 lbs (22 tons). That means ~ 68 trailers a day rolling into the plant to keep it running.

    I’m familiar with a coal-fired power plant in our part of the country that recently converted to burning biomass. They are using 70 trailers a day, and have had to range as far as 150 miles away from the power plant to get the biomass they need.

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  60. By Rufus on June 22, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    I’ve got a real bad feeling about Anything Khosla touches; and this Kior deal just smells, looks, and quacks a lot like Range. I wouldn’t put a plugged nickel in it.

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  61. By biocrude on June 22, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    @RR, how about just “Drill Baby Drill”  Then go into how that is NOT the answer to our severe problems, but a small, absolutely necessary act in order to prevent a total domestic energy meltdown.  I also agree that vampires will sell more copies. 

    I enjoyed John Stewart on Chris Wallace’s show on FOX the other day, when he was addressing whether the NY Times and other “mainstream media” were in fact liberally biased, and whether FOX was the right wing counterbalance.  Stewart said something to the effect of: “the media’s agenda is sensationalism.”   I couldn’t agree more. 

    IMHO, the issue with our Energy IQ is the Kardashians, Apprentice, Any Evening News, and basically any other crappy show you find on TV. As I only have Netflix and watch occasional clips via computer, I can honestly say that every time I turn on the TV at someone else’s house I am amazed at how worthless it is.  Seriously, can someone name on TV show worth watching?  No wonder we are so stupid…

    The talking heads are the worst.  (not the band Laugh ) 

    Maybe the solution is a reality TV show about a bunch of idiots in Los Angeles that have to live in a world without petroleum?  That might raise a smidgen of awareness.

     

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  62. By paul-n on June 23, 2011 at 1:08 am

    Just been announced, today, that Condoleeza Rice is joining the Board of Kior.

     

    Now, does that sound like a move for a company that is trying to make money out of ;

    a) producing and sellign something, or 

    b) getting government funding while not necessarily having to produce anything.

     

     

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  63. By rrapier on June 23, 2011 at 2:58 am

    Biocrude said:

    Maybe the solution is a reality TV show about a bunch of idiots in Los Angeles that have to live in a world without petroleum?  That might raise a smidgen of awareness.


     

    Now that’s actually an interesting idea. Amanda Little explored that in her book Power Trip. I can safely say that most people have no idea of what life would be like in that situation. Even basics like toothbrushes are made entirely out of petroleum. In Little’s book, a guy tried to replace his toothbrush with a natural toothbrush made from wood and hog hair. Didn’t work too well.

    RR

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  64. By moiety on June 23, 2011 at 2:59 am

    During recent parades of the army in England a major said that none likes to show off more than a soldier. While certainly there are marketing guys involved in Range and Kior, a lot of scientists are behind it as well. They like to get recognition as well.

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  65. By Wendell Mercantile on June 23, 2011 at 9:43 am

    Even basics like toothbrushes are made entirely out of petroleum.

    But I do remember when I was a kid once having a toothbrush with a wooden handle. (would have been the early ’50s)

    And guess what? You can still buy one on Amazon: Wooden Natural-bristle Toothbrushes made of pearwood and boar bristles. Only $4.99 + shipping.

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  66. By Optimist on June 23, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    Even basics like toothbrushes are made entirely out of petroleum.

    Oh, come now! This is only true because petroleam is still the cheapest way to make plastic. It can easily be replaced by natural gas or coal. And given the quantities, it might even be replaced by renewable material, long before renewables are competitive with liquid fossil fuels.

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  67. By Wendell Mercantile on June 23, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    Oh, come now! This is only true because petroleum is still the cheapest way to make plastic. It can easily be replaced by natural gas or coal.

    Or even by recycling. Apparently, billions of pounds of plastic get thrown away or into dumped into landfills each year. If nothing else, we should at least turn that plastic into fuel. Some future archaeologist will find all the plastic and wonder, “Why did they just throw all this energy-dense stuff away?”

    Optimist, I think you’ll find a significant amount of plastic is already made from natural gas — at least plastic bags are.

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  68. By rrapier on June 23, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    Optimist said:

    Even basics like toothbrushes are made entirely out of petroleum.

    Oh, come now! This is only true because petroleam is still the cheapest way to make plastic. It can easily be replaced by natural gas or coal. And given the quantities, it might even be replaced by renewable material, long before renewables are competitive with liquid fossil fuels.


     

    As I said, that is one of those things Amanda Little explored in Power Trip. She detailed a person who had decided to live without petroleum, and his toothbrush experience was one she described. I think he ultimately decided he much preferred his petroleum toothbrush.

    RR

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  69. By paul-n on June 24, 2011 at 1:22 am

    I think he ultimately decided he much preferred his petroleum toothbrush.

    Ahh, but did he even know Wendell’s natural bristle toothbrush existed?  

    Those look pretty good, actually, and, really not much more than a plastic one – same as you pay a premium for good bristle paintbrushes.

    Don’t know if it would be a good pick up line though, to say you brush your teeth with wild boar hair!

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  70. By Wendell Mercantile on June 24, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Don’t know if it would be a good pick line though, to say you brush your teeth with wild boar hair!

    Paul,

    That line might work pretty well with the Birkenstock crowd at Berkeley or in Boulder.

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  71. By paul-n on June 24, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    As long as they are not vegan – it is animal hair, after all.  

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  72. By russ-finley on June 25, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    I suspect that the old journalism model of writing “balanced” articles was a mistake from the beginning. All people have their biases and many of them are subconscious. When journalists attempt to write a balanced article they end up “disguising” their bias, which is worse. Journalists should disclose up front where their bias is and then write an opinion piece, attempting to be fair and honest. That way readers can better assess the validity of what is written (take it with a grain of salt as they always should). Nothing worse than reading an article about the pros and cons of teaching evolution in our schools written by a journalist who also happens to be an evangelist (but is not required to disclose that)  who attempts to give equal weight to both positions. People will “believe” their “beliefs:”

    Miss USA delegates discuss evolution

    The “experts” consulted are often not experts and they all have their biases as well.

    The traditional media has to pay bills. It’s an obsolte business model and it is getting desperate to stay afloat. It will write whatever it has to write to attract the most readership. For-profit journalism is not the best place to go for information.

     

     

     

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  73. By russ-finley on June 25, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    Robert Rapier said:

     

    … a guy tried to replace his toothbrush with a natural toothbrush made from wood and hog hair. Didn’t work too well.

    RR

     

    The hog was also created by fossil fuels.

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  74. By quasecarioca on June 25, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    Robert Rapier said:

    The problem is “How do I present ideas in a format that will interest the mainstream?” Is that even possible? If I thought it were, I would start writing today. But what the editor and I are struggling with right now is specifically what the book will be about such that people are interested.

    Ironically, you’ve hit on exactly the problem faced by these journalists that you’re upset with. They too have to write something that the general public is going to read rather than a treatise on an energy issue that will only appeal to pointy-headed energy types such as ourselves. As an energy journalist, I can relate to your frustration with this silly knee-jerk reaction to oil company profits, but at the same time find myself a bit frustrated by the not-terribly-informed common wisdom about how the media business works. Editors and reporters want stories to be read, to be informative, to be talked about and if possible to stir up controversy. This is not the same as “they just want to sell papers” — remember it’s ads that they really want to sell, and it’s the ad sales department that does that. The image of the reporter and editor expressly seeking to write the most “profitable” story reminds me a bit of the conspiracy theories that blame oil companies for our lack of electric cars, our dependence on foreign oil, the high cost of gasoline, the political instability of the Middle East, etc etc.
     

    Like your concerns about your book project, nobody wants to write a story whose headline is going to make eyes glaze over. Reporters have to write stories with a narrative, yes, and that means narrowing down and simplifying ideas (it should not, as you have aptly pointed out, mean erasing the entire other side of the story.) Writing a story that says “Industry experts divided on X topic” is a sure fire way to make sure that nobody reads what you wrote apart from the industry experts quoted in the story. Any news analysis needs to have a cohesive thread or a simple line of argument, which is often confused with bias.

    I will agree with a lot of your frustrations about the media business, though. Stories that have heroes and villains, rich and poor, downtrodden and oppressors, are much more likely to be read than stories that would help people’s energy IQ. My current pet peeve in the media is the constant barrage of stories about how “The world is running out of food!!!!!” that play up the Malthusian time bomb idea that we’re all going to starve becacuse there are going to be 9 billion of us on the planet — with not a single mention of the fact that the world wastes 1/3 of the food it produces, that our consumption of food is hideously inefficient, that half the world is eating itself sick while the other half starves. I tried to pitch this idea to my boss, he told me I needed to write an op-ed. This highlights a failing of the industry — when it’s got drama and tension, it’s a story, when it’s a boring, everyone’s to blame, we’ve-met-the-enemy-and-he-is-us reality, it’s for the nerds and the bloggers to holler about. This is exactly the problem with the energy debate — it’s not about big bad oil companies forcing us to pay too much, it’s about an entire set of lifestyle decisions we have to change in order to reduce our consumption of energy. This is the story nobody wants to talk about — not the media, certainly not the Republicans, certainly not the limousine liberals who preach against Big Oil while flying around the world to do multicultural things.

    So I agree with much of what you’re saying, I would just stress that the reporter’s dilemma is not terribly far from your own.

     

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  75. By rrapier on June 26, 2011 at 8:18 am

    quasecarioca said:

    So I agree with much of what you’re saying, I would just stress that the reporter’s dilemma is not terribly far from your own.


     

    But, I have no problem writing controversial stuff that happens to accurately represent a situation. That stuff ends up making some portion of hte population angry, and some portion happy. That’s not what I am after; I want to inform in a way that despite political affiliation people are drawn to the book for factual information. So how to make facts fun? I am working on it.

    RR

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  76. By Optimist on June 27, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    So how to make facts fun? I am working on it.

    No, RR! Facts are NOT by themselves boring. Presentation is everything.

    It’s like the difference between a good math or science teacher and a bad one. The good teacher can provide a narrative, without sacrificing the facts. The bad teacher ends up reciting a long list of apparently unconnected facts (it is true because I say so), and make the subject seem dead and difficult.

    I’m sure your in-depth understanding of the energy business will place you in the good teacher category. If this blog is anything to go by, you’re there.

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  77. By Optimist on June 27, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    Reporters have to write stories with a narrative, yes, and that means narrowing down and simplifying ideas (it should not, as you have aptly pointed out, mean erasing the entire other side of the story.)

    With all due respect, the problem appears to be that may reporters have little or no understanding of basic science (or math).Then, when somebody claims his invention will free the world from the need to use oil (or end hunger, or whatever), the reporter seems unable to ask the probing questions about just where all the inputs (feedstock, energy, etc.) to make the new invention work is going to come from. Basic questions, such as: How is the new invention different from existing technology? What makes it better? Go unasked. It can be telling when these questions go unanswered. But it is a crime against humanity when they go unasked.

    A good example would be Discover magazine’s breathless series of Anything into Oil articles on TDP (part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4, there may be more). The stories are packed with misperceptions. To name but one: turning turkey guts into “oil”, while worth getting excited about, is not quite the same as turning anything into oil. Demonstrating that you could turn anything (meaning anything organic) into oil would take several weeks at least, and a reporter with a solid grasp of chemistry. The Discover reporters seem to lack this skill. Hence they write a lot of excited hot air, but fail to understand the limits of what CWT achieved.

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  78. By Optimist on June 27, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    My current pet peeve in the media is the constant barrage of stories about how “The world is running out of food!!!!!” that play up the Malthusian time bomb idea that we’re all going to starve becacuse there are going to be 9 billion of us on the planet — with not a single mention of the fact that the world wastes 1/3 of the food it produces, that our consumption of food is hideously inefficient, that half the world is eating itself sick while the other half starves.

    What I find interesting is how pessimism is often perceived as a sign of wisdom, while optimism is perceived as an inability to understand the scale of the problems we face.

    IMHO, this is at the core of many of the problems of the modern world: the inability to come up with ambitious goals, innovative solutions and inspiring principles appears to be rooted in a deep sense that “this is as good as it is ever going to get”. Perhaps it is that sentiment that marks the end of civilizations.

    Topic for an opinion piece?

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  79. By cartographer on September 11, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    You’re the guy Rapier is talking about! Who would contemplate buying ad space in a publication that is focused solely on selling ad space NOT their product??? Again Misinformation! You can only sell ad space if people buy the publication to begin with and the publication can only be profitable if it is competitive which goes to the comment you made, “This is not the same as “they just want to sell papers” — remember it’s
    ads that they really want to sell, and it’s the ad sales department that
    does that. The image of the reporter and editor expressly seeking to
    write the most “profitable” story, you did a better job of proving Rapier’s point than his article!

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