Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) has been one of the fiercest critics of the Navy’s procurement of biofuels for its fleet of ships and aircraft. However, before calling the military’s $12 million R&D program for renewable fuels part of a “green agenda,” Inhofe secured millions of dollars for a company developing liquid fuels from natural gas that cost 29 times more than conventional fuel.
In 2002, Inhofe earmarked more than $2 million for the Oklahoma-based company Syntroleum, which is looking to produce gas-to-liquid fuels for military use. According to 2010 filings at OpenSecrets.org, Inhofe holds between $15,000 and $50,000 in assets through BlackRock, the largest investor in Syntroleum.
Jim Lane at the Biofuels Digest reported that Syntroleum’s fuel cost considerably more to produce than the renewable fuels used by the Navy today:
Adjusting for inflation, the $2.3 million contract in 2002 dollars equates to $2.93 million in today’s dollars, or $28.21 per gallon. Back in 2002, jet fuel was selling at considerably less than today – at an average price of 75 cents per gallon in the second half of the year, according to indexmundi.com.
Overall, the cost of the natural gas-based alternative fuel was 29 times more than the cost of conventional fuels at the time, and cost more, per gallon, in today’s dollars than the Navy’s advanced biofuels program.
Since the original contract in 2002, Syntroleum has reportedly secured nearly $6 million in contracts with the Department of Defense.
In a recent statement, Inhofe said he supports the development of alternative fuels. However, that support seems to be limited to fossil fuels. He called the Navy’s biofuels program a part of the “liberal green agenda” that could threaten “the lives of service men and women” — even while supporting a technology that was almost 30 times more expensive than conventional fuel when originally funded.
Jim Lane sums up Inhofe’s contradictory stance on renewable fuels:
There seems to be ample evidence that Senator Inhofe is intimately aware of the costs of developing and testing alternative fuels in small quantities. It appears to be a simple case of playing political games, by criticizing Dynamic Fuels for selling advanced biofuels for $26 per gallon, when the Senator himself won an earmark requiring the military to purchase even more expensive natural gas-based fuels from Dynamic’s parent.
Paying nine times as much for test quantities of advanced biofuels? “Far-left agenda.”
Paying 29 times as much for test quantities of alternatives to fossil fuels made from, ahem, more fossil fuels? “A real difference for America.”
Last month, the Navy purchased 450,000 gallons of biofuels at $26 per gallon. Blended together with petroleum, the fuel procurement was enough to power three warships and 70 aircraft for a few days. The 50-50 mixture cost $15 per gallon. The Navy is also working together with biofuels producers to develop commercial refineries to supply operations in the future.
Many Congressional Republicans have criticized the Navy’s push for biofuels, saying the fuels are too expensive. The Navy has defended the move toward next-generation renewable fuels, saying that new domestic supplies would help protect against price volatility and make the military more secure.
In an interview with Climate Progress last year, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus put the fuel switch into a historical perspective:
The Navy has always led when we’ve changed energy. In the 1850’s, we went from sail to coal. In the early part of the 20th century, we went from coal to oil. We pioneered the use of nuclear for transportation in the 1950’s. Every single time we did these things there were people who said ‘it’s a fad.’ There were people who said ‘you’re trading one very known source of propulsion or energy for something that’s unsure – too expensive or just won’t work.’ And every single time they were wrong. Every single time. And I am absolutely confident those folks are going to be wrong this time too.
Unless, of course, politicians purposefully derail the program in order to continue our reliance on fossil fuels.