The Myth of the American Energy Crisis

October 24, 2012 | By | Reply More
The flier containing information about an upcoming presentation was titled Myth of the American Energy Crisis. I thought to myself this is a catchy title for sure and it includes the word “energy,” so I had better clear that date on my calendar so I could check out what I was hoping would be a brilliant presentation on energy and politics by Mark Chapin Johnson, PhD at the Center Club in Orange County, California on September 12, 2012. It turned out that I was not disappointed.
The bottom line according to Dr. Johnson is that virtually everything we know and think about the merits of ethanol is actually the opposite of reality, and “politics” is the reason this is so. There certainly was no shortage of data from the extremely well prepared Dr. Johnson. You are welcome to read the accompanying six hundred and thirty six page research paper he wrote on the matter by selecting the links at the end of this post, an Assessment of United States Ethanol Policy (had to split the paper into three parts due to size); however if you are short on time, I would recommend you select the PDF version of the presentation linked to below, The Myth of the American Energy Crisis.
When I showed up at the event, I was pleasantly surprised that the presenter was the Dr. Mark Johnson I knew several years ago from the time I spent involved in and learning about politics. I knew that his background and understanding of politics was much deeper than that of a reasonably well informed voter since Johnson had worked behind the scenes for a great many years in various elections and on political measures. As I was then listening, I knew there was probably more truth to his presentation than most might believe.

Dr. Mark Chapin Johnson Presentation at Center Club

You may have noticed at the gas pump the stickers that say ten percent of the fuel you are pumping into your car is from ethanol. If you think about it, if ten percent of the fuel we pump into our cars is ethanol, then that’s a lot of ethanol. If you throw in the idea that ethanol is wasteful as can be, then we have a huge problem on our hands. This reminds me a bit of the speech our IEA senior website editor, Jessica Murphy, pitched at the 2012 Sino-American Juvenile International Energy Alliance Environment Conference that took place in China last June. One of Murphy’s main points was, do not be so fast to embrace every form of renewable energy that comes forth since some actually create more problems than they cure. 
A fascinating fact from the presentation is that ethanol is only two thirds as efficient as gasoline. In other words, from ethanol, we only get two thirds the amount of energy we get from gasoline. This of course means that since ten percent of a gallon of gas is ethanol, we get fewer miles from a gallon of gas. In fact, as far as overall inefficiency goes, Johnson’s research shows that the amount of energy required to produce an amount of ethanol is greater than the energy output of that amount of ethanol. It takes oil to prepare the fields, oil to plant the corn, oil to harvest the corn, oil for the ethanol production process, and oil to transport ethanol. Johnson also pointed out that part of the environmental impact of producing ethanol is that it releases into the atmosphere harmful nitrous oxide greenhouse gas that is three hundred times more potent than carbon dioxide gas, and it has helped to create the Gulf of Mexico “dead zone.”

IEA Chairman Andrew Hunter with Dr. Johnson after presentation

Johnson maintains that the United States has vast supplies of oil in our country and offshore, and there are great shale oil reserves in Canada –and yet we are paying huge sums of money to buy our oil from far away foreign countries. In his presentation, he speculates that if the U.S. began to tap into its great oil reserves, that within three years, the U.S. could change from being a debtor nation to being a creditor nation.

I decided to research into Johnson’s oil theory a little bit on my own. Please follow the Los Angeles Times link and select from the tabs at the top of this flash driven tool to see who supplied what amount of oil to the world and to the United States in 2010, who is using the oil of the world, and where are known world oil reserves. This flash tool provides are rather refreshing display of information. You can play around with it some and then draw your own conclusion.
Here’s what we have on Johnson’s background: Chairman of the Mark Chapin Johnson Foundation, Trustee at Chapman University, and Overseer at The Hoover Institution. You may also visit Mark Chapin Johnson Foundation for more information on Dr. Johnson. 
Please feel free to comment on this post. If you comment on the post or the attached papers from Johnson, I can try to see if we can get a response from him on your comments. 

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Category: General Energy Information, Recommended Reading

About the Author ()

I am in my second year of a five year combination BS physics/math and MS systems engineering program offered jointly through Haverford College and UPenn. Helping my community is a lot of fun and means a great deal to me. Through the IEA and other efforts, I've come to learn how much power many can have when there is a clear positive vision, motivation and momentum. "There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist." — Mark Twain

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