Robert Bryce has written an important book, one in which he persuasively argues that America’s goal of achieving “energy independence” is not just unwise; it is impossible. Gusher of Lies is the kind of wake-up call that would have saved American consumers and taxpayers billions of dollars if it had been written and understood a generation ago. Regrettably that did not happen and, instead, this country’s energy policy has been written by politicians who generally do not have a clue when it comes to sound energy policy and who to an extent owe their jobs to energy lobbyists who seldom have the country’s best interests at heart.
Simply put, at present there is no alternative fuel, or combination of fuels, capable of replacing the fossil fuels on which the country now depends for its energy needs. That will probably not change during the next three to five decades. Oil production in the U.S. reached peak levels in the early 1970s and will never again come close to reaching levels that would make this country energy independent, even when combined with a more substantial use of alternative fuels. To make matters worse, despite what environmentalists and others (usually those ready to make a personal profit from the alternative fuel) claim, all of the alternatives to oil share some combination of characteristics that make them poor substitutes: high cost, inadequate supply, lower energy efficiency, high carbon dioxide emission levels, diversion of food crops or consumption of vast volumes of water.
Bryce is particularly scornful of the ethanol scam that is making some farmers, and at least one major agribusiness, Archer Daniels Midland, wealthy at the expense of the rest of us because he believes that biofuels are more expensive and more destructive than the fossil fuels they replace. The government continues to subsidize those producing ethanol with billions of taxpayer dollars despite the damning evidence that ethanol is a huge drain on the U.S. economy, increasing not just the cost of a tank of “gasoline” but the many food products impacted by an unnecessary competition for the country’s limited corn crop. Equally disturbing is the fact that ethanol production probably makes global warming, if it in fact exists, worse instead of better because the production cycle of ethanol, from raising the corn crop to creating the finished product, results in carbon dioxide emissions that are 50 percent greater than those produced by simply using fossil fuels.
As bad as these facts are, perhaps the most appalling side effect of producing large corn crops for ethanol purposes is that a vast amount of water, another limited resource, is being squandered to raise those crops. Bryce estimates that, on average, 132 gallons of water are required to produce each gallon of ethanol. Compare this to the less than three gallons of water needed to produce a gallon of gasoline. And all this water creates a product that, per gallon, produces only two-thirds the energy of the equivalent volume of gasoline.
Bryce offers another fun fact for those still unconvinced that ethanol is a fool’s solution to America’s energy problems. He quotes a Washington Post article to the effect that, “the amount of grain needed to fill a 25-gallon SUV tank ‘would feed one person for a full year.’” Can anyone seriously suggest that this is a moral trade-off?
Gusher of Lies addresses wind power, solar power, coal-to-liquids, nuclear power and natural gas, as well. All of these energy sources will, to one degree or another, be used in place of oil but the author sees only nuclear power and liquefied natural gas as having the potential to make much of a real impact on oil consumption. Instead of throwing away billions of dollars producing inferior oil substitutes like corn ethanol and keeping armies in the volatile Middle East in an attempt to secure oil supplies, Bryce makes the strong case that it is time for American political leaders to understand how counterproductive it is to target energy independence. A shift in foreign policy and a willingness to let open markets function as they are intended to function would potentially free billions of dollars to be better spent on the infrastructure and societal needs of the U.S.
I only wish that every member of Congress would carefully read this book. As it is now, Bryce believes that we are tilting at windmills, very expensive windmills, and I think that he is correct.