America Runs on Diesel

By: Chris Johnson

My nine year old daughter is a big fan of Little House on the Prairie. She loves the old TV show, just got the books and is greatly looking forward to reading them. I am excited to have her read them too. Historical narratives like these are great reminders of how people used to live and what they went through to hand down to us the society we have today.

One of the amazing differences to think about is how in that time, almost everything you had came from your land or your neighbor’s. Your home and furniture would be built with lumber from the trees around you. Your food would come from your garden and your animals. Your clothes would come from what you could weave or kill. Of course, Little House on the Prairie wouldn’t be the same without the shopkeeper, Mr. Oleson, but his store was only there for the things that couldn’t be made from the materials on hand, which I dare assume is accurate to the period being portrayed.

In contrast, stop what you’re doing a moment and look around you. If you’re in your home, you’ll see your furniture, your appliances, your electronics. You’ll see your flooring, your sheetrock walls covered by paint, your trim and molding, your door hardware, etc. Most likely, none of the materials these are made from were sourced from anywhere near you, or even near each other. Factories, forests, and lumberyards from around the world are represented in every square inch of your home. If you go to the fridge and pantry you’ll see meat and dairy products from animals hundreds of miles from you, fruit from orchards in different hemispheres, corn and flour products harvested from fields that you couldn’t get to in a day’s drive.

Pa Ingalls probably could have told you all about the tree he made his rocking chair from, while we couldn’t even narrow down which part of the globe it grew on.

Much less, explain how it got to us. We might be able to name the store, but not the warehouse it came from or the semi it was loaded on to get there or the factory that assembled it or the freighter that brought it from the factory to the warehouse, let alone the forest it was harvested from or the mine it was dug out of.  Much to the chagrin of today’s world leaders, the key to getting almost anything almost anywhere is diesel fuel.

Diesel powers the tractors, harvesters, mining equipment, semi-trucks, road-building machinery, forestry equipment, locomotives, and freighters – just to skim the surface – that make our world possible. Not to mention, being used by many in cold climates as a primary heat source.

Diesel is obviously one thing that we do not want to run low on.

But we are.

According to Fox Business: “The U.S. is grappling with the one of the worst diesel shortages in decades, with reserves of the fuel used for heating and trucking at the lowest seasonal level ever. 

“Government data released last week showed the country has just 25 days of diesel supply remaining, with stockpiles at the lowest level for records going back to 1993. In the Northeast, where more people depend on diesel to heat their homes in the winter, supplies are one-third of their typical levels during this time of year, the Department of Energy said.”

Now to be clear, that is reason for great concern, but not panic. The 25 day stockpile is what would be on hand if the nation stopped producing and importing; it is not the total amount of diesel we have access to. We’re not on a 25 day countdown to no fuel, in other words.

But we are vulnerable. CNBC reports that  The diesel market is in a perfect storm as prices surge, supply dwindles ahead of winter,” explaining that “Diesel prices have increased 33% for November deliveries and are expected to go higher. Diesel supply in the Northeast, the drought-stricken Mississippi River, and a potential rail strike are contributing to higher fuel demand with calls for federal government intervention to increase supply. And Diesel reserves have not been this low since 1951 and a ban on Russian products set for next year will intensify competition for the fuel.”

In addition, this 71-year low is hitting at the time of the year demand is at its highest. Farmers are still harvesting, stores are stocking for holiday shopping – which means lots of semi- trucks on the road, many use diesel to heat their home in the colder months, and to top it off with some irony, a push for electric vehicles is driving oil consumption as well.

A recent report by John Stossel revealed that with all of the mining for rare metals that has to take place to put together just one electric vehicle (EV), it takes 60,000 miles before an EV breaks even with a gas vehicle on its emissions. It will be years before all of the EVs being pushed on consumers make it to 60,000 miles, especially with their range limitations.  In the meantime, the mining operations are a net negative on any hoped for  decrease in petroleum use.

We are no longer importing the usual 700,000 barrels of oil a day from Russia, railway strikes planned for November would impede the import of 289,000 barrels a day (40% of which come from Canada), OPEC has refused to increase oil production in spite of pressure from the Biden administration, and US refineries shut down diesel production operations anticipating a drop in demand during COVID shutdowns – a drop which never came.

Meanwhile, our Strategic Petroleum Reserves have been either used to artificially drive down prices at the pump ahead of the midterms or sold to the highest bidder (a million barrels a day as of July) until they have been depleted to their lowest level since 1984.

Pretty much everything in our lives came to us by way of oil products, specifically in most cases, diesel. As diesel becomes more scarce and more difficult to get, everything else will be more difficult to get too. Prices will go up and availability will be spotty.

We desperately need a change in oil policy. Whether that change will have to come with a change in administration or with this agenda-driven administration smacking hard into the wall of reality, only time will tell. In the mean time, it might be a good time to stock up on essentials and get non-essentials while they’re (relatively) cheap.

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