gas prices

Post image for MIT Study Debunks RFA/Vilsack Claims on Ethanol, Gas Prices

Back in May, I discussed a study conducted for the Renewable Fuel Association (RFA) by Iowa State University’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Development (CARD). The study claims that from January 2000 to December 2011, “the growth in ethanol production reduced wholesale gasoline prices by $0.29 per gallon on average across all regions,” and reduced average gasoline prices by a whopping $0.89 per gallon in 2010 and $1.09 per gallon in 2011. Ethanol boosters like the RFA and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack tout this study as proof that federal biofuel policies benefit consumers and should be expanded.

The CARD researchers, Xiaodong Du and Dermot Hayes, attempt to determine the consumer benefit of ethanol by inferring what motor fuel prices would have been over the past decade had there been no increase in ethanol production. Ethanol now constitutes roughly 10% of the motor fuel used by U.S. passenger vehicles. Du and Hayes conclude that without ethanol, U.S. motor fuel supply would be significantly smaller and pain at the pump significantly greater.

This procedure, I argued, is ridiculous. First, it assumes that refiners are like deer caught in the headlights and do not respond to incentives. Even if motor fuel prices increase by up to $1.09/gal nationwide over a 10-year period, we’re supposed to believe refiners would not increase output and take advantage of this opportunity to sell more of their product at higher prices. But that’s exactly what refiners would do. In the process, supply would come back into balance with demand, pushing fuel prices down.

Second, the CARD study ignores the opportunity costs of ethanol policy. Capital is a finite resource. Dollars that refiners are mandated or bribed to invest in ethanol production are dollars they cannot invest in gasoline production. The CARD study implausibly assumes that all the refining capacity diverted by federal policy into ethanol production would have been left idle in a free market and not used to produce gasoline instead.

Admittedly, the CARD study is full of math I don’t understand. But two experts in the field – MIT energy economics professor Christopher Knittel and UC Davis agricultural economics professor Aaron Smith – have just produced a technical critique of the CARD study. Titled “Ethanol Production and Gasoline Prices: A Spurious Correlation,” the researchers make several telling points, some of which are funnier than the standard fare found in the ‘dismal science.’   [click to continue…]

Post image for Ethanol Still Not Lowering the Real Cost of Gasoline

In the wake of high gasoline prices, the ethanol industry is making the rounds in Washington, and they want you to believe that the Renewable Fuel Standard has lowered gasoline prices by up to $.89 per gallon. This would be remarkable, if it were true. The ethanol industry relies on a study produced by the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at the University of Iowa. Here is the abstract:

This report updates the findings in Du and Hayes 2009 by extending the data to December 2010 and concludes that over the sample period from January 2000 to December 2010, the growth in ethanol production reduced wholesale gasoline prices by $0.25 per gallon on average. The Midwest region experienced the biggest impact, with a $0.39/gallon reduction, while the East Coast had the smallest impact at $0.16/gallon. Based on the data of 2010 only, the marginal impacts on gasoline prices are found to be substantially higher given the much higher ethanol production and crude oil prices. The average effect increases to $0.89/gallon and the regional impact ranges from $0.58/gallon in the East Coast to $1.37/gallon in the Midwest. In addition, we report on a related analysis that asks what would happen to US gasoline prices if ethanol production came to an immediate halt. Under a very wide range of parameters, the estimated gasoline price increase would be of historic proportions, ranging from 41% to 92%.

If we go to E85prices.com, we see that as of March 29, 2012 the average nationwide price-spread between E85 and E10 is 14.7%, with E85 costing an average of $3.31/gallon and E10 costing an average of $3.89/gallon. Ethanol has less energy content than gasoline, so a direct price comparison is not appropriate. The generally accepted metric is that E85 must be priced about 28% lower than E10 in order to break even, meaning that the cost per mile driven is equal between E85 and E10. [click to continue…]

Post image for Rep. Ed Markey: Real Genius

According to F. Scott Fitzgerald, the finest writer in American history, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” By this criterion, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) is a real genius, because he manages to function in the Congress, despite the fact that he thinks the price of gasoline should go up and down, simultaneously.

As one of the Congress’s foremost global warming alarmists, Rep. Markey believes that hydrocarbon energy is the cause of the supposed “problem” that is global warming. Due to this belief, he is a staunch supporter of energy policies designed to make hydrocarbon energy more expensive, so that Americans use less of it, and thereby fight global warming. For example, he co-authored the American Clean Energy and Security Act, a cap-and-trade energy rationing scheme passed by the House of Representatives in June 2009. (Thankfully, the bill died in the Senate.) Because the entire point of this policy was to “put a price” on carbon, it would have increased the price of gasoline, by design.

[click to continue…]

Post image for Energy Populism at the Justice Department

In case you haven’t checked recently, gas prices are high again. Fear not, because the DoJ is on the case: “High gasoline prices prompt Justice department to eye energy industry.” From the article:

Attorney General Eric Holder made no secret the move is a direct response to public angst, not to current evidence of any illegal conduct.

While promising official vigilance, the attorney general acknowledged regional differences in gasoline prices, and said, “It is also clear that there are lawful reasons for increases in gas prices, given supply and demand.”

At least give them credit for admitting that they’re wasting taxpayer dollars on a bunch of nonsense. If public conern is the only metric for a DoJ bureaucratic task-force, there are a number of other issues American’s are inappropriately worried about. I’d be shocked if the Department of Justice was interested in wasting its time on those issues.

There was a good piece in Forbes explaining the (lack of) evidence that speculators have been driving the price of oil by Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren.