Fuel to Byrne

By Chris Nelder |  May 2, 2012, / for complete article refer http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/energy-futurist/fuel-to-byrne/480

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The mainstream press never seems to tire of re-writing the new “energy independence” story, despite my repeated debunkings (here, here, and here) of recent Pollyannish articles projecting massive growth this decade from marginal unconventional oil resources.

An April 10 article in the New York Times (”Fuel to Burn, Now What?“) raised the bar on American oil optimism once again, going so far as to suggest that the U.S. might become “a top energy exporter, rivaling some members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.” This was a remarkable claim, considering that we are still the world’s top oil importer by far, at a net 8.4 million barrels per day (mbpd) according to the Energy Information Administration.

One statement in particular that just begged for debunking was the claim that the U.S. produced 9 mbpd of oil in 2011.

When oil is not oil

To come up with 9 mbpd, one needs to include several categories of liquids that are not actually oil. It is these additional categories that have posted the greatest growth in recent years, and without them, there wouldn’t be such of an optimistic oil story to tell.

Source: Gail Tverberg, Our Finite World, from EIA data clip_image004

Actual U.S. crude plus condensate (natural gas liquids that are naturally associated and produced along with crude oil) production was 5.7 mbpd in 2011, or 56 percent of the 10.1 mbpd total, according to the EIA.

Natural gas plant liquids—liquids that are separated from “dry” methane gas at natural gas processing plants—accounted for 2.2 mbpd, or 22 percent of the total.

“Other liquids” in the EIA’s definition—mainly corn ethanol—contributed another 1.1 mbpd, or 11 percent of the total.

Refinery processing gains made up the final 11 percent at 1.1 mbpd.

There are two problems with counting these liquids as if they were oil: One, they are not equivalent to crude oil on an energy basis. And two, some of it isn’t even used as fuel for motor vehicles.

Natural gas liquids

Natural gas liquids, or NGLs, have a variety of uses, but only isobutene, pentane, and “pentanes plus” (also known as “natural gasoline”) are typically used in the making of gasoline, as this helpful chart explains:

The NGLs that can be used in the making of gasoline make up about 30 percent of a barrel of NGLs, and have far higher energy content than the others:

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Refer for more detail http://www.smartpl  anet.com/blog/energy-futurist/fuel-to-byrne/480

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Considering only the NGLs that are usable in gasoline production, and discounting for their energy content, I find that only 19 percent of a barrel of NGLs should really be counted as vehicular fuel. The rest will find its way into cigarette lighters, barbeques, plastics, and so on, but it won’t power any vehicles. This is an important distinction when one is telling an “energy independence” story that is implicitly about transportation.

With this adjustment, 2.2 mbpd of NGL production actually contributes just 0.4 mbpd of vehicular fuel.

And no doubt those who really want to tell an optimistic story about incipient U.S. “energy independence” wish that I would stop making sense and stop worrying about the details. On an all-liquids basis, they’re not really lying; they’re just putting U.S. oil production in that suit that David Byrne used to wear in the ’80s.

Photo: David Byrne of the Talking Heads, from the 1984 Jonathan Demme concert film Stop Making Sense

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