16 May 2010

Was This Spill Necessary?

Some say the harm from the Deepwater Horizon gusher is regrettable, but such incidents are a necessary price to pay for adequate U.S. oil supplies. The country needs the oil, and accidents will happen, but the alternative is oil starvation, they say. Is this true?

Let's say the oil that would have been produced from the
Mississippi Canyon Block 252 well would have satisfied 1% of U.S. oil demand at some future time. (All Gulf of Mexico oil makes up about 10% of U.S. petroleum consumption.) Are you sure you couldn't find a way to reduce your petroleum consumption 1% and thus make drilling this well unnecessary?

71% of U.S. petroleum consumption is for transportation, so that is the place to look for savings. You could reduce your personal demand for oil drilling to supply your transportation needs by 1% by:
  • Reducing total miles driven by 1%. If you drive your vehicle 12,000 miles per year, a 1% reduction is 120 miles per year, or about 1,700 feet per day. Think you can cut one-third of a mile per day off your driving?
  • Reducing fuel consumption by 1% by improving fuel efficiency. Your mileage may vary, but say you currently get 20 miles per gallon, averaged over the whole year. Could you get 20.2 mpg?
    • If you drove at 65 mph on the highway instead of 70 mph you could improve fuel economy by 5 to 10%. Seventy-five miles per hour is even worse. When you drive 75, you are saying "drill and spill, baby, I'm in a hurry".
    • Driving aggressively (accelerating with three-quarter throttle rather than one-quarter throttle) cut fuel efficiency more than 30% in Edmunds' tests. A significant fraction of U.S. petroleum consumption is wasted getting to the next stopsign a few seconds sooner. Could a light foot save the planet?
    • Use your cruise control on the highway on level terrain. This can improve fuel economy by 5-10%. But you probably already do this. Or do you have oil and money to burn?
If even a fraction of drivers achieved these savings the Macondo well might not have been necessary, or economical. (If U.S. drivers significantly reduced their fuel consumption the price of gas would go down, and dangerous and expensive wells and tar sands would become less attractive to oil companies. The U.S. accounts for 23% of world petroleum consumption, so U.S. demand has a significant impact on total demand and price.)

Someone who doesn't take these steps to reduce oil demand has no right to complain about fuel costs, oil companies' profits or oil spills.

[Data from EIA, Gibson Consulting, EPA, Edmunds.com here and here]

[crossposted from the HaraBara blog]

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