The writer, of Dallas, is chairman and CEO of BP Capital, a hedge fund that trades in energy equities and commodities.
We’ll soon learn the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline that has caused such concern in Nebraska and in the environmental community. If we kill Keystone, we will truly go down as the dumbest generation ever.
One of the major drivers in the decision on Keystone is the U.S. Department of State, which leads to the question: Who is responsible for developing an energy plan? The president? Congress? The Secretary of State? The Department of Energy?
Until we figure that out, we won’t have a workable plan. And, as my father liked to tell me, “Son, a fool with a plan can beat a genius with no plan any day.”
Right now, when it comes to America and our effort to achieve greater energy security, we’re a foolish nation without a plan.
If it were up to me, America’s energy plan would have these key elements:
First, transportation. Transportation accounts for 70 percent of our oil use, and we need to replace OPEC oil/diesel with domestic natural gas in the heavy-duty truck and fleet sector. Our domestic natural gas reserves continue to expand, thanks to the domestic oil and gas industry’s success with horizontal drilling and fracking.
Too many people believe the amount of oil we import from OPEC could be dramatically reduced if we would just build and operate more farms for solar power and wind power. Oil is a very small player in the production of electricity. Electricity in the United States is largely produced using coal, nuclear, hydro and, increasingly, natural gas.
As to our heavy-duty vehicles — 18-wheelers, trash and refuse trucks, municipal buses and the like — there are more than 8.5 million of those and not a single one can be pushed using batteries. Even ethanol will not produce enough energy to fuel an over-the-road truck. There are only two available fuels: imported diesel or domestic natural gas.
Natural gas is cheaper than diesel, it is cleaner and, because natural gas lines run through almost every city and town in the country, it is readily available almost everywhere.
About 50 percent of the oil we import is refined into diesel fuel, so it is a big target. Most over-the-road trucks run the same routes on a regular schedule, so the need for a refueling facility on every street corner, as we have for passenger cars, isn’t an issue.
America can and does build natural gas refueling stations along major Interstate highway routes without the need for government funds. Major manufacturers are now building truck and bus engines that will run on liquefied natural gas (LNG) and, as that ramps up, prices will drop.
Next, let’s audit all the state and federal regulatory policies that impede the growth of domestic transportation fuels. Let’s use Nebraska as an example.
Nebraska is among a number of states that do not tax LNG properly. Alternative fuels contain different amounts of energy per gallon than gasoline and diesel. Therefore, a gasoline or diesel-gallon-equivalent tax based on energy, not volume, makes more sense. In Nebraska, LNG is taxed almost twice as much as diesel. This problem needs to be fixed immediately so truckers can utilize clean, domestic natural gas to transport goods.
Finally, we need to quit burying our heads in the sand. Energy is not “free market.” OPEC is a cartel. More than 70 percent of the oil in the world is controlled by state-owned oil companies.
Despite the stunning increases in domestic oil and natural gas production, gasoline prices for consumers have barely budged. That’s because the Saudis control oil prices with their production, and they need $100 per barrel to meet their social commitments.
Let’s inject serious fuel competition into the mix. Free marketers will tell you they don’t want government picking winners and losers. By doing nothing, we’re choosing OPEC oil.
I’m for picking a winner — our domestic transportation fuel alternatives. In heavy-duty fleet applications, that’s natural gas.
All we are missing is a plan. And leadership. And accountability.