Reducing Our Dependence on Foreign Oil . . . Or Increasing Our Dependence on Domestic Subsidies?

The ethanol industry’s favorite claim is that it is reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. But how much? And at what cost?

  • According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, if all the corn and soybeans produced in the United States were devoted to ethanol and other forms of fuel, leaving nothing for livestock and poultry feed, human food, sweeteners, beverages, etc., that would meet only 12 percent of the demand for gasoline and six percent of the demand for diesel fuel. When you subtract the amount of fossil fuel required to produce the ethanol, you are left with an energy gain of only two percent of the gasoline supply – an incredibly small gain from such a huge input. (“Environmental, economic, and energetic costs and benefits of biodiesel and ethanol biofuels,” by Hill et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2006: 103; 11206-11210.)
  • Consider also that while we import half of our petroleum, according to the Energy Information Agency, that means that half is still produced in the United States, so the actual contribution of ethanol to “energy independence” would be even less than two percent.
  • The largest exporter of petroleum to the United States is not some Middle Eastern nation but our neighbor Canada. In fact over, half of our imports come from other nations in the Western Hemisphere.

Ethanol producers like to wrap themselves in the flag, but the fact remains that ethanol is at best a small supplement to motor gasoline. More domestic oil and gas development would make a far greater and more economical contribution to energy independence than ethanol ever can.