Sunday, May 15, 2011

Some Ray Mabus Misperceptions on Energy

On 10 May 2011, Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, presented all the misperceptions about the US military energy consumption in one speech (see Remarks by the Honorable Ray Mabus, U.S. Green Building Council Federal Summit).
I will discuss here some of his misperceptions or misconceptions and compare them with the underlying reality.
Misperception #1: The Navy energy goals are “all about our energy security and moving toward complete energy independence. Our military and our country rely too much on fossil fuel. That dependency degrades our national security; it also harms the environment and has a negative effect on our economy.”

Reality: Today no reasonable person claims anymore that energy independence can or should be a target, simply because we are living an interdependent world. I know no country that puts energy independence as a national energy policy. The target is to lessen the dependency.

Misperception #2: “too much of our oil comes from either potentially or actually volatile places on Earth. We don’t have to do anymore than read the headlines about that. We would never allow the countries that we buy petroleum products from to build our ships or our aircraft or our ground vehicles. But we give them a say as to whether those ships sail or those airplanes fly or those ground vehicles operate. We give them a say because they provide fuel for it.”

Reality: Indeed this speech Mabus used a rather vague terms to describe where the oil comes from. Mabus said in March 2011 “We cannot allow volatile regions of the world to control the price and affect the supply of the fuel we use.” President Obama and Secretary Gates had defined those countries as “from foreign nations that are not allies.”
Energy Information Administration argues that “Our dependence on foreign petroleum is expected to decline in the next two decades.” One-third of all the imported oil comes from Canada and Mexico. He should look at the oil import statistics and define which countries he is targeting. Then one should compare this with the countries in the US arms sales, and foreign military sales, arms transfer and other assistance programs.
Besides that one should also pay attention that the US does not import any energy from for instance North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran and yet they are considered as higher treat to US national security than the countries the US imports oil from. So, even being energy independent does not guarantee at all less treat to national security.
Misperception #3: “The number one thing we import into Afghanistan – number one – is gasoline. And getting a gallon of gas to a Marine front line unit in Helmand Province is hard and it’s expensive in a lot of different ways…. For every 50 convoys, we lose a Marine, killed or wounded. ….. we have to get our folks back to doing what they were sent to Afghanistan to do, which is not to guard convoys, but to fight, to engage, to rebuild.”

Reality: I don’t agree with that. Bottled water put marines more at risk than fuel. Read this very informative story in the May 2011 issue of National Defense magazine. Col. T.C. Moore (team leader for the Marine Corps energy assessment team) says “Hauling water makes up 51 percent of the logistical burden”. His team calculated that a gallon of water at the tactical edge in Afghanistan costs the military $4.78, compared to the assured delivery price of $1.42 per gallon. “The Marine Corps should be focusing on finding solutions at the tactical edge,” said Moore, including using indigenous sources of water wherever possible and making investments in more water-efficient technologies at forward operating bases. See here or the original AEPI Report titled Sustain the Mission Project: Casualty Factors for Fuel and Water Resupply Convoys in September 2009.  So, don’t blame the fuel alone. Blame more the inability and incapability of the Pentagon for bottled water use.
Misperception #4: “we have sent equipment into Afghanistan with our Marines to power their small electronics by roll-up, solar blankets that they put in their packs. It not only saves us from bringing gasoline in, it saves them from hauling pound after pound after pound of batteries when they go out on foot patrol.”
Reality: As mentioned in a National Defense article: “Freeing troops from the tyranny of batteries has taken on more urgency in recent years as the overall weight of a soldier’s gear has ballooned upwards of 130 pounds. Curbing the demand for batteries is one piece of a larger effort by the Army and Marine Corps to bring down the weight from 130 to less than 50 pounds.” The real problem is not the batteries alone.  Each electronic gadget requires specific chargers and batteries that are made by different companies so soldiers end up with a rat’s nest of wires and connectors.
Finding solutions for battery load and recharge is good but again, one needs to blame the Pentagon for acquiring gadgets that require different chargers, different batteries.
At the end, the Pentagon is paying the price for most of its wrong decisions, which have been mostly short-sighted. Now, fixing it costs a whole lot of money. It’s been 10 years now in Afghanistan and still the country has no refinery. If the US had constructed a refinery there, would there be that many fuel convoy attacks or theft? What Taliban could have made crude oil anyway?

In sum, the Pentagon should blame itself first for some of its pains it is facing today.


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