Saturday, September 11, 2010

Transport Fuel Rationing in the USA: Part 4 Gasoline and diesel availability during a hypothetical disruption in foreign oil imports

I’m am going to consider a disruption of oil imports from outside the Western Hemisphere (i.e., from outside of North and South America).

Why?—perhaps this would be do to a conflict in the middle-east involving the USA, Iran, Israel, and others.

Beyond this, I am not going to speculate about what the cause of the conflict and who the nations involved. I will note in passing, however, that the Joint Operating Environment report of 2010(JOE 2010: nicely shows the chokepoints in the middle east:
As stated in the JOE 2010 report:

OPEC nations will remain a focal point of great-power interest. These nations may have a vested interest in inhibiting production increases, both to conserve finite supplies and to keep prices high. Should one of the consumer nations choose to intervene forcefully, the “arc of instability” running from North Africa through to Southeast Asia easily could become an “arc of chaos,” involving the military forces of several nations.
For this exercise, I am simply going to assume here that there will be a military conflict, or some other “arc of instability,” which causes substantially no flow oil into the USA from outside of the Western Hemisphere for an extended period (i.e., at least several months, if not years).

My objective here is to estimate what effect this would have on gasoline and dfo availability.

The AER 2009 gives a break-down of the USA’s oil imports by country (Fig. 5.4; Table 5.4):

I'm assuming that during the Disruption, oil from Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Russia, Iraq, UK, are off the table, simply because shipping oil through the choke-points is not possible, or, because the oil-producing countries have stopped producing.

So let’s tally up what, at best, could be available post-disruption from the USA and from the remaining imports from the Western Hemisphere, and convert barrels of oil to gallon of gasoline:

USA: 7.2 MB oil/d
CAN: 2.5 MB oil/d
MEX: 1.2 MB oil/d
VEZ: 1.1 MB oil/d
BRZ: 0.3 MB oil/d
Total: 12.3 MB oil/d

12.3 MB oil/d is a 35% shortfall from the present estimated use of 18.9 B oil/d (see Part 2).

Now I am ready to consider the effects this will have on the availability of gasoline and diesel to households, and make a reasonable estimate of what ration could be enforced.

Gasoline Availability
A 35% short fall of oil translates into to 12.3 MB oil/d x 19.5 G gas / 1 B of oil = 240 MG gas/d.

From this total, I am going to take off the top 52 MG gas/d that I estimated for the critical uses in Part 3. This leaves about 188 MG/d available for household use. Let’s now recalculate the "ration" of gasoline available per household:

(240 million gallons gas per day)/ (105 million households) = 2.2 G gas/d•hh.

Now, the total average driving distance is 44 miles per household, assuming 20 mi/G.

This is far below the present average commuter distance of 64 miles for a two-car household (e.g., each car commuting a round trip of 32 miles would travel 64 miles per day) I estimated in Part 3.

Perhaps it is too optimistic to think that USA would continue to get 5.1 MB oil/d from its near-neighbors in the Western Hemisphere?

If we only consider USA production (7.2 MB oil/d), convert this to MG gas/d, and then take away the gasoline for critical uses, the remainder is only 88 MG gas/d, or about 0.83 G gas/d•hh.

Now, the total average driving distance is down to 17 miles per day per household!

Imagine what a strain this would put on the USA’s economy, where people are daily commuting nearly 4 times that distance.

Diesel Availabilty
Hey, maybe having a diesel-fueled vehicle would be better during rationing? After all, diesel cars are thought to get superior mpg. Plus, there are a lot less diesel cars on the road, so there might be less competition in a rationing situation?

Part 3 already hinted at the answer to this, but the following calculations really make clear how wrong this is, and, at how the USA’s critical infrastructure uses are more dependent on diesel than on gasoline.

A 35% short fall of oil translates into diesel availability in the USA going from 152 MG dfo/d to 99 MB dfo/d.

In this scenario, we do not even have enough dfo available for the critical uses, which I estimate amounts to 126 MG dfo/d. I suppose that some of this huge critical use shortfall of 27 MG dfo/d could be partially made up by shifting truck transportation, and maybe some government uses, from diesel to gasoline. Still, the prospects do not look good here.

There would have to be some hard choices made about which, and how much, of the critical uses diesel would have to be cut back. If it was done evenly, that would be 21% cut across-the-board. That would include residential users of dfo. In my opinion, a 21% cut would not go over very well in the NE states by residents who rely on dfo for their home heating needs during the winter months.

As for a ration of diesel for household transportation under these circumstances?—forget about it.

Additionally, if some of the critical transportation uses were shifted from diesel to gasoline, that in turn, would reduce the total amount of gasoline that I estimated would still available for households. That is, the gasoline ration would be even lower than what I estimated above.

Some Implications and Conclusions
1) The USA’s critical infrastructure uses are more precariously dependent on diesel than gasoline. If there was a sudden disruption of oil imports, I predict that the shortfall would impact the critical uses of diesel more severely than the critical gasoline uses.

2) Even if there is no sudden disruption of oil imports, I predict that the USA will feel the impact of diesel shortfalls to a greater extent, and sooner, than gasoline shortfalls, because the USA’s critical infrastructure uses are more dependent on diesel than gasoline.

For instance, to go from the USA’s present use of 152 MB dfo/d to my estimate of 126 MB dfo/d for critical uses, requires only a 17% shortfall. If I make the same assumption of a steady 6.2%/yr decline in imports (as predicted by Jeff Brown’s "export-land model"; see my post titled, “the shape of oil decline”)  and assume a modest 2%/yr decline in domestic production, we get to a 17% shortfall in about 5 years, or by 2015. Civilian rationing would start before this however, in my opinion.

For instance, if Jeff Brown is right, and Mexico stop exporting oil by 2014, there will be a 6% shortfall in USA imports. Unless this made up from some other source, that shortfall will have a relatively bigger impact on the amount of diesel available for “civilian” transportation uses than gasoline availability. I would not be surprised that a 6% shortfall in diesel would cause some form of civilian diesel rationing.

3) I predict that you would not be better off owning a diesel vehicle, at least if you are going to rely on conventional supplies of diesel. The rationing of diesel from conventional sources for “civilian” household use would likely be more severe, and maybe non-existent, if the USA were to experience a sudden disruption of the type that I’ve hypothesized here.

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