Marathon exec bashes fuel mandate




Unrealistic federal mandates to increase the amount of ethanol in fuels will cost much and offer little benefit, a Marathon Petroleum executive said Monday.

“This is a burden on our company. It’s a burden on the consumer, because ultimately the consumer pays. We can’t stay in business otherwise,” said David Whikehart, director of product supply and optimization for Marathon Petroleum. Whikehart spoke Monday to Findlay Rotary Club.

Increased use of biofuels is meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which cause Earth to warm.

Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, NASA reports.

But there is much folly in the federal mandates, Whikehart said.

If greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by the targeted 2 to 3 percent by 2022, the mean global temperature would be reduced by 0.002 degrees Celsius, Whikehart said.

“This looks like a lot of pain for not a whole lot of gain,” he said.

Besides all that, it seems unlikely that the emissions targets will be met, he said.

“Essentially, it’s infeasible,” he said of the mandates. “We can’t get any more ethanol into the gasoline pool, and yet the mandate’s there for us to do it.”

The Environmental Protection Agency charges fees to pressure refiners like Marathon to blend fuel with even more ethanol content than the current 10 percent. The agency has deemed 15 percent ethanol as acceptable from an emissions standpoint, Whikehart said. But from other standpoints, that amount of ethanol, known as E15, is a problem.

Out of concerns that ethanol made from corn could become a political problem, the federal government has assumed that much ethanol will soon be made from inedible material like wood chips or grass. But that technology simply is not available yet, Whikehart said.

“There isn’t a single plant up and running to sell me this material,” he said. “To meet the entire standard, you would need a thousand (plants), and they all have to be built, theoretically, at least in the next eight years.”

Even if all of those production plants would be built, another problem exists.

“I don’t think people want to pay $6 a gallon for gasoline. It’s too expensive,” Whikehart said. “So we’re working on figuring out how to make it cheaper, but it’s a pretty heavy lift.”

Besides that, increased ethanol content in fuel has other problems.

E15 is not legal in most states, he said. Research shows it may cause engine problems or damage fuel pumps, Whikehart said.

At fueling stations across the country, pumps and tanks would have to be upgraded for the new fuel, or be damaged by it.

“There are 100,000 (convenience) stores in this country. They all have to be rebuilt in order to handle this product,” he said.

Introducing a new fuel means doubling the company’s expenses to deliver fuels, he said. Marathon still must sell the old fuel for up to 20 years, because many vehicles will not be compatible with the new fuel, Whikehart said.

“The biofuel mandate … doesn’t worry that the engine technology is there. It doesn’t worry that it might take 20 years to turn the fleet over, and it also doesn’t really address the fact that a whole secondary distribution system has to be put in place,” he said.

“This is where we run into a problem with the mandate.”

Wilin: 419-427-8413
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