As the Biden administration applies its economic sanctions against Russia in response to that nation’s invasion of Ukraine, the diplomatic and economic maneuvers are putting upward pressure on prices at the gas pump. The president warned that his steps would cause pain for American drivers. Unfortunately, he has ignored a widely available, less expensive source of clean transportation fuel – biofuels, like ethanol – that could help ease those prices and supply concerns.
Russian oil represents only 2 percent of all U.S. oil imports, but that same amount is a more sizeable 8 percent of Russia’s oil exports. (Imported oil represents about 20 percent of U.S. supplies, the greatest volume, by far, coming from Canada).
Nonetheless, gas prices here are being squeezed, already under pressure from the oncoming summer driving season. At the start of this year, gas in the United State ran about $3.30 a gallon. It has since increased by nearly $1, with much of that price jump coming since Russia launched its attack nearly six weeks ago and the president laid down his sanctions.
President Biden responded to the higher fuel prices last week by announcing efforts to boost domestic production, principally by threatening oil companies with fees on wells located on public lands that haven’t been used in years – a practice he calls “hoarding without producing.”
The president also last week announced the largest release of U.S. oil reserves in history, with plans to put an average one million additional barrels on the market per day for the next six months. The scale of the release is unprecedented.
However, tapping the reserves provides only short-term relief and keeps this nation wedded to the fossil-based economy. Depleting the reserve is detrimental in that the oil taken will eventually have to be replaced with oil purchased in an uncertain future market. Instead, ethanol could be used now to supplement the nation’s gasoline supply and it can be replenished simply by ramping up production of this renewable fuel.
The disruption to global oil markets and the consequences it has on prices here prompt us to call on the White House to boost the amount of ethanol that can be blended into U.S. gasoline across the country year-round. While there is currently a focus on making E15 blends (15 percent ethanol per gallon) available year-round by waiving restrictions on its sale in some areas of the country during summer months, the White House should not stop at just expanding the use of E15. The president should improve fuel quality by removing regulatory barriers and enable blends that can replace up to 30 percent of petroleum gasoline with mid-level, high-octane, low-carbon fuel such as E25. Doing so would enable the use of American-made ethanol in higher, midlevel blends, presenting a cost-effective and low-carbon solution that can offer simultaneous economic, environmental and national security benefits.
The economic benefits of ethanol are significant. As consumers continue to deal with high gas prices, wholesale prices for gasoline with just 10-percent ethanol, which most Americans currently use, is about 30 cents lower than straight gasoline. Given that the price difference between E10 and E25/E30 in the current market is substantial, changing to the higher midlevel blends could reduce gasoline prices by an estimated 20 percent.
On the environmental front, renewable ethanol reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by roughly 40-50 percent when compared to regular gasoline – findings verified in recent studies by Harvard, USDA and the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory.
To reinforce the absolute need to reduce GHGs now is the report issued this week by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warning that the world is speeding toward a level of global warming that, in a few short years, will have irreversible impacts if nothing is done. The report issues a clarion call for action, saying that while solutions to these challenges are available, a lack of political will and a failure to move off of fossil fuels is perpetuating the current course.
It also must be noted that even at just 20 percent of our total supply, our imported oil makes the United States vulnerable to the whims of leaders of those nations that supply that oil. The actions of Vladimir Putin show petroleum dictators have oversized control over world markets. Current international tensions show that boosting our domestic fuel supplies with domestically grown biofuels will reduce our vulnerability to those vagaries and better ensure our national security.
Given the win-win-win solutions that biofuels provide, we urge stakeholders to call on the Biden administration and policy makers to pursue every option available that will support the availability of mid-level renewable fuels across the nation. If not now – when?