by Diana Chan
Supporters of ethanol argue that it is unwise to rely heavily on foreign oil. Two-thirds of the world’s known oil reserves are located in the Middle East, an unstable area due to violent conflict. Oil extraction from the Gulf of Mexico can be unreliable during the hurricane season. In addition to these difficulties, the increased demand for oil from developing countries like China and India may drive up the cost of oil for the U.S. For these reasons, it is in America’s best interest not to depend on foreign oil.
Advocates of the proposed ethanol plant in Bridgewater Township believe that corn ethanol is a good way to lower our dependence on foreign oil. Corn can be grown in this country, and ethanol can be manufactured here as well. Using ethanol does, to some extent, lower the amount of oil from overseas that we use. Pro-ethanol websites publicize the fact that in 2005, the production of ethanol lowered the amount of oil that was imported by 170 million gallons, thus decreasing the U.S. trade deficit by $8.7 billion . When these figures are shown alone, it seems that ethanol has a drastic impact on American oil imports. When put in context, though, the numbers look negligible. In 2004, the U.S. imported over 200 billion gallons of oil . This means that ethanol helped to decrease foreign oil by less than 1%. Also, the U.S. trade deficit was $611 billion in 2004, meaning that ethanol use decreased the deficit by less than 1.5% . Ethanol will not eliminate the United States’ use of foreign oil, nor will it even come close to doing so.
If all of the corn grown in the U.S. were used to produce ethanol, only 12% of the nation’s gasoline use at the pump would be offset . This is not a particularly large percentage, not to mention the fact that nowhere near all the corn would ever be used to make ethanol. Corn has too many other important uses, such as food for humans and animals, for this to happen.
While a maximum of 12% of gasoline could be replaced by ethanol, the actual amount of foreign oil used would decrease by much less than that. This is because oil is used throughout the production process of ethanol. It is used by farm machinery, during transportation of corn to the ethanol plant, and during transportation of the ethanol from the plant to distribution centers. If all the corn grown in the U.S. were used to make ethanol, there would only be a 2.4% net decrease in foreign oil use .
Corn ethanol production is not the way to achieve independence from foreign oil. While signs promoting ethanol promise “Freedom from Foreign Oil,” there is really a very limited amount that corn ethanol can do to offset foreign oil use. Reducing the amount of fuel this country consumes is probably the best way for us to lower the amount of petroleum we import. This tactic can be combined with other alternative energy sources to further lessen our dependence on foreign oil.
1 “Ethanol Facts: Energy Security.” January 2006. http://www.ethanolrfa.org/resource/facts/energy/.
2 “Dependence on Foreign Oil.” http://www.drivingethanol.org/ethanol_facts/why_dependence_foreign.aspx.
3 “Rank Order – Oil imports.” The World Factbook. February 8, 2007. https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/rankorder/2175rank.html.
4 “U.S. Trade in Goods and Services.” February 13, 2007. http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/statistics/historical/gands.txt.
5 Environmental, economic, and energetic costs and benefits of biodiesel and ethanol biofuels.” Jason Hill, Erik Nelson, David Tilman, Stephen Polasky, and Douglas Tiffany. June 2, 2006. http://www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/0604600103v1
6 Environmental, economic, and energetic costs and benefits of biodiesel and ethanol biofuels.” Jason Hill, Erik Nelson, David Tilman, Stephen Polasky, and Douglas Tiffany. June 2, 2006. http://www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/0604600103v1