Saturday, August 2, 2008

Intellectual Dishonesty or Just Dumb

I've seen a lot of conservative blog posts about how stupid Obama is because he said that keeping our tires inflated would save us "all the oil that they're talking about getting off drilling?" Most of them seem to be based on this Powerlineblog post.

This post says:

Just for fun, I did the math. Properly inflating your tires can improve gas mileage by 3%. Of course, many people already keep their tires properly inflated, and many more are at least close to being properly inflated. Let's be generous and assume that one-half of the total possible savings would be realized if we all inflated our tires properly; that's a net gain of 1.5% fuel efficiency.

Americans drive approximately 2,880 billion miles per year. If we average 24 mpg, we use around 120 billion gallons of gasoline in our vehicles. If, through perfect tire inflation, we improved our collective fuel efficiency by 1.5%, that would be 1.8 billion gallons. A barrel of oil produces around 20 gallons of gasoline, so the total savings available through tire inflation is approximately 90,000,000 barrels of oil annually.

How does this stack up against "all the oil that they're talking about getting off drilling?"

ANWR: 10 billion barrels
Outer Continental Shelf: 18 billion barrels (estimated; the actual total is undoubtedly much higher, since exploration has been banned)
Oil shale: 1 trillion barrels

So, on the above assumptions, it would take only 11,308 years of proper tire inflation to equal "all the oil that they're talking about getting off drilling."

Here is a list of inaccuracies and problems I found with the post:

(1) The largest problem I see is that the author threw Oil Shale into his calculations. You don't DRILL for oil shale, you MINE it. Am I being nit-picky? I don't think so, Obama clearly states that he is talking about drilling for oil NOT all possible oil reserves. It seems to me that the author is just adding the oil shale numbers in to exaggerate his number for the years that it would take for proper tire inflation to equal "all the oil that they're talking about getting off drilling?"

(2) The second problem I see is in his assumptions. He says blithely that half of all people probably keep their tires inflated properly. Well, in 10 seconds worth of Googling I found this story on MSNBC which says:
A RMA survey found that each month three out of four drivers wash their car, but only about one in five correctly checks tire pressure, while more than 80 percent of drivers do not know how to properly check tire pressure.

With the amount of research the author did on other numbers maybe he could have spent 10 seconds researching a number which would significantly change his results. (80% vs 50%)

(3) If you listen to Obama you will actually hear him say:
Making sure your tires are properly inflated – simple thing. But we could save all the oil that they’re talking about getting off drilling – if everybody was just inflating their tires? And getting regular tune-ups? You’d actually save just as much!

Note that he said "regular tune-ups." If we go to the Federal government's Fuel Economy website we find that regular tune-ups improve gas mileage an average of 4%. We also find that regular car maintenance items like using the correct oil could improve mileage up to 2% and keeping your air filter clean could help up to 10%.

Lets do a little math now that we have cleared up some...lets call them overlooked items or mistakes. Pulling the numbers from the blog to keep things consistent we have:

Annual miles driven by Americans 2,880 billion
Average fuel efficiency 24 mpg
Give us a usage of 120 billion gallons of gas a year.
One barrel of oil = 20 gallons of gas
120 billion gallons of gas = 6 billion barrels of oil a year
Fuel savings for tire inflation 3% x .8 = 2.4% added to savings for keeping your engine tuned 4% x .8 = 3.2% for a total savings of 5.7%

6 billion x 5.7% = 342,000,000 barrels of oil a year.

That's quite a bit more than the 90 million the author of the post came up with. Now if we add the oil we can DRILL out of ANWR and the Outer Continental Shelf we have a total of 28 billion barrels of oil.

28 billion / 342 million = about 82 years NOT 11,308

To put this into further perspective we should look at how fast we can access ANWR and Outer Continental Shelf oil.

According to this article on MSNBC if we gave the oil companies the go ahead to drill in ANWR now oil would start pumping by 2013 and peak at 876,000 barrels of oil a day in 2025. Let me guess that if we will average pumping 500,000 barrels a day over the life of the ANWR oil reserves to that means we will be pumping oil for about 55 years until it is tapped out. If we assume a similar time line for the Outer Continental Shelf oil then the 82 year I calculated above doesn't seem like a crazy number especially since I didn't include any savings for using the right oil and clean air filters.


Look, I'm no energy expert or petroleum engineer but I do have a mechanical engineering background and a pretty decent BS detector. You can take numbers, make grand assumptions and get any result you want especially if you selectively quote your source and then throw in "facts" that don't apply. I laid out my case and I think you will come to the same conclusion that I did. The Blogline poster is either intellectually dishonest or just plain dumb.

No comments: