Want to keep gas prices low? Watch PUMP

We’re all watchers of the gas-station “flip sign” now.

They call it that — the flip sign — because it has replaceable plastic numbers, or electronic ones, that “flip” as the price fluctuates. For months the national average for a price of regular unleaded has been flipping in a downward direction, from $3.68 a gallon in June to $2.11 on Tuesday.

We keep track of such details because (relatively) cheap gas means more money stays in our pockets. Depending on where you live, how far you drive, and whether your chariot sips gas or guzzles it, you’re saving $50, $75, $100 a month that can be used for other purposes.

Low fuel prices are great for consumers, but we shouldn’t expect the windfall to last. American drivers deserve the cost certainty of permanently low prices, and the best way to achieve that is through fuel choice, so gasoline isn’t the only alternative when we fill up.

How do we get there? The documentary film PUMP has the answers. And it’s available on iTunes, starting today, to buy or rent.

PUMP, narrated by Jason Bateman, played in theaters in more than 40 cities last fall, receiving favorable reviews from critics and high marks from audiences. Check out PUMPtheMovie.com to watch the trailer, view a photo gallery and read bios of the stars, including Elon Musk.

PUMP traces the century-long history of how gasoline, refined from crude oil, came to monopolize transportation in the United States. It shows how dependent we’ve always been on oil, to the detriment of the country’s economic well-being, national security, health and environment.

The solution is to diversify the U.S. fuels market by allowing other types of fuel to compete on an even footing with gasoline. Technological innovation has brought us cars that can run on multiple types of fuel, including ethanol and methanol (made from a variety of “feedstocks,” including plants, natural gas and landfill waste). Other vehicles are powered by compressed or liquefied natural gas, hydrogen fuel cells, and of course, lithium ion batteries.

The choices are practically endless, and yet the vast majority of drivers are stuck with only one choice: gasoline.

Creating the market conditions that will lead to a diversified fuels market will produce a variety of benefits, but for the moment let’s get back to the economic benefit. No one saw the oil-price drop coming, and experts have been consistently wrong every step of the way. But reasonable people have predicted that prices, inevitably, will rise again. We know this because it’s happened again and again in recent American history.

Fuel choice will ensure that you lock in your monthly savings for the long term, instead of enjoying only short-term relief.

If permanently cheap gas sounds like attractive, watch PUMP. The solutions are in there.

 

 

Read before you download: What the critics said about PUMP

PUMP hit theaters around the country in September, and now it’s about to hit the digital landscape.

You can download it on iTunes now. You can watch the trailer, and learn more about the film and the experts who made it such a success, at PumpTheMovie.com

PUMP was a hit with the public and the critics: On Rotten Tomatoes, 85 percent of viewers said they liked the film, while 73 percent of critics gave favorable reviews.

You should do yourself a favor and read some of these reviews yourself, though: The critics who saw PUMP had very nuanced, well-thought-out views, giving the important issues raised in the film the proper weight.

Below are excerpts from some of the bigger media outlets that reviewed the film. Read all about it, then watch the film and tell us what you think!

The Washington Post:

” … the movie makes compelling points. More important, the film suggests both long-term and short-term solutions.

“… if consumers hate oil so much, why aren’t there more readily available alternatives?

“That’s the question the documentary keeps circling back to, which is a smart approach because it’s aimed at appealing to both eco-conscious liberals and fiscal conservatives.”

The New York Times:
“… the arguments have an appealing logic for those concerned about the environment.

“… the movie goes beyond alarmism with solutions that on the surface would seem to find common ground between environmental advocacy and unfettered capitalism.”

The Hollywood Reporter:
“The historical overview they provide is insightful and lucid … The headline is that most cars on today’s roads could easily run on non-petroleum fuels that are cheaper, cleaner and more plentiful than gasoline. At the heart of the doc is ultra-practical information with the potential to galvanize a broad audience.

“Their thesis transcends red-state/blue-state polarities.

“The shift from quiet how-we-got-here outrage to hope, in the form of hands-on specifics, torques Pump and gives it momentum.

“… the eye-opener is that millions of American vehicles are already equipped to switch between gas and ethanol.

“Pump offers a map to true competition à la Brazil’s, and argues convincingly that there would be profound and wide-ranging benefits if American car owners were in the driver’s seat.”

The Los Angeles Times:
“Viewers of ’60 Minutes’ will experience déjà vu during vignettes on Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors and Brazil’s exemplary national conversion to ethanol, but ‘Pump’ ventures a step further to explore the practicality of flex-fuel vehicles in this country and methanol as another fuel alternative.

“As far as documentaries go, the film is exhaustively researched, interviewed and documented. Its disclosure that General Motors declined multiple interview requests earns the film some credibility where other advocacy docs fall short. It arms advocates with plenty of well-reasoned and compelling talking points …”

Variety:
“This zippily edited docu aims less to chastise than to emphasize that solutions to our oil addiction and much-vaunted desire for energy independence are tantalizingly close at hand.

“For unabashed agitprop, ‘Pump’ is quite entertaining, drawing together colorful archival footage, interviewed experts and ordinary folk, as well as sojourns to China (in the wake of its economic boom now the world’s largest market for cars) and Brazil (whose shift to ethanol production brought prosperous energy dependence), in a lively, professional package.”

The Oregonian:

“The most convincing testimony comes from John Hofmeister, a former president of Shell Oil who has switched sides. But the real stars of ‘Pump’ are the hackers and engineers who’ve devised cheap and easy ways to convert vehicles to flex-fuel capability.

“The inability of our capitalist economy to exploit this untapped market is puzzling until the filmmakers get to the part about the massive political donations made by Big Oil. Switching from gasoline to a cheaper, more environmentally friendly, domestically available fuel won’t address the other negative consequences of car culture — urban sprawl, traffic congestion, increased obesity — and neither does the film. But by pointing out simple things that could make huge differences, it’s a solid first step.”

Bloomberg BusinessWeek:
“This is the second feature about ending America’s dependence on oil from the wife-husband team of Rebecca Harrell Tickell and Josh Tickell. They’re tub-thumpers, but not shrill. Their thrust is roughly that cars = freedom. Americans love their freedom, and they sure do love their cars. Yet strangely, car- and freedom-loving Americans lack freedom of choice when it comes to what their cars run on. What gives? Oil is far from the best fuel for an automobile—not even close, if you factor in extraction costs, energy security, and pollution.

“Determined not to dwell on the negative, Pump introduces us to hobbyists, entrepreneurs, and even indie service station owners already making the break from petroleum.”

Village Voice:
“A car’s high beams trace slow-motion lightning across the highway. An auto worker in suspenders strides the factory floor. These seductive images of the American automotive industry act as dreamy parentheses to Josh and Rebecca Tickell’s compelling and cogent documentary Pump, which examines why Americans are so lacking in options at the gas station, what that means about the future of transportation and environmental health, and why the oil-driven American Dream must die — why it is dying.

“By carefully tracing the history of the oil companies’ legislative and consumer power and influence, the directors explore America’s issue of substance dependence, and indict the companies that act as enablers. If you’re not convinced we’re addicted, ask yourself if you could quit at any time.”

Reuters’ Breakingviews:
“A narrow focus helps “Pump” make its point clearly. The filmmakers don’t take on global warming or automobiles. Their solution is simple and straightforward: introduce competition at the gas station and let the invisible hand do the rest.

“Demand for alternatives, including electric vehicles from Elon Musk’s Tesla, is … growing alongside a crude backlash. On Monday, for example, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, an $860 million philanthropic organization that owes its existence to the Standard Oil fortune, said it would divest from fossil fuels. The collective effect of all these efforts, including the message from ‘Pump,’ may just help fuel a trend.”

The Source magazine:
” ‘Pump’ makes clear one thing: oil is used in everything, from clothing to furniture, plastics to medicine and, yes, even engines to power cars. And increased demand leads to, you guessed, higher prices. ‘Pump’ explores this in a holistic, appreciative and thoughtful way.

‘Pump’ explores a range of alternative fuels including ethanol, methanol, natural gas among others, but never suggests humanity stop driving cars altogether. It would be a major technological step backward, damaging decades of effort. Instead, ‘Pump’ offers reasonable, grassroots-style progress that enables anyone to make a sustainable change.”

Cinemacy:
http://cinemacy.com/pump/

“One thing was made clear to me, we have a right to choose how we fuel our cars and that right is not being acknowledged by the government or big oil companies, which means the responsibility for change lays solely on us.

“The unpredictable cost of fuel, coupled with the damaging effects to our environment and our dependency to over-seas oil rigs is a scary future that we find ourselves looking at today. We are forced into limited choices at the pump, which only creates a stronger foreign dependency and a wealthier fuel monopoly. The message Pump presents, once you get past the numbers game, is simple: American made replacement fuels will equal more jobs, a healthier environment, and a stimulated, growing economy.”

Related posts:

Electric company: GM makes statement with Bolt, Volt

General Motors CEO Mary Barra has sent a strong message to the auto industry: It’s serious about producing electric cars for the middle class.

One of the most talked-about vehicles unveiled Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit was GM’s Bolt, an all-electric concept car that could go on sale in 2017, the Detroit Free Press reported. The company also officially unveiled its redesigned Volt, a plug-in electric-and-gasoline hybrid that got a first glimpse at CES in Las Vegas last week.

The Bolt’s price tag is $30,000, including the $7,500 federal tax incentive, GM North America president Alan Batey said. It would get about 200 miles on one battery charge.

As the Detroit News reported, GM is positioning the Bolt as an affordable EV option:

“This is truly an EV for everyone,” Barra said. “For most people, this can be their everyday driver.”

Batey said the Bolt isn’t aimed at Tesla, noting Tesla’s current average transaction prices are above $100,000.

“They are for the rich and famous. This is for the people,” Batey said of the Bolt. “I would probably counter and say I haven’t seen Tesla with anything like this.”

Despite what Batey said, Forbes took the unveiling as a direct challenge to Tesla:

The Bolt is a clear shot at upstart rival Tesla, which has said it is working on a less-expensive version of its $70,000+ Model S. Dubbed the “Model 3,” it would cost somewhere between $30,000-$40,000, a clear attack on the most popular segment of the automobile market.

Barra is clearly looking to meet the challenge. The Bolt, she said, would be an “all-electric vehicle for the real world.” Tesla CEO Elon Musk is scheduled to appear at a related auto industry conference in Detroit on Tuesday afternoon.

As for the revamped Volt (with a “V”), the biggest news is that the battery range has gone up to 50 miles. At that point, the gasoline engine, a 1.5-liter “range extender,” kicks in, pushing the limit to 400-some miles before the vehicle needs a charge or a fill-up. With the electricity and gas range combined, mpg on the highway is about 41. In all-electric mode, however, it’s 102 for a gallon-of-gasoline equivalent, thanks to the new 18.4-kilowatt-hour lithium battery.

Auto Blog notes:

To compare, today’s four-seat 2015 Volt has a 38-mile range from a 17.1-kWh battery in a powertrain that offers 37 mpg and 98 MPGe. So, across the board, there are notable improvements.

The blog has much more about the dashboard improvements, and the Verge has a bunch more photos.

The Volt is expected to be in showrooms in the second half of 2015 as a 2016 model.

(Photo: General Motors)

Woolsey on fuel choice: ‘Let everybody play’

R. James Woolsey, the former director of Central Intelligence and a current member of the Fuel Freedom board of advisors, went on the Jacki Daily show recently and had some interesting observations about the global sell-off in the oil market.

He said the price drop has been particularly hard on oil-exporting nations that need a high price to balance their budgets and meet generous public benefits. “Russia really needs oil up around $120 a barrel in order for its society to function,” he said.

He said nations like Russia should diversify their economies so they aren’t as reliant on oil prices for a thriving economy. “Russians don’t make anything. When was the last time you were in a store and you bought something that says ‘Made in Russia’? I guarantee you it doesn’t exist.”

Despite low prices, many experts predict that the global demand for oil will resume its upward trajectory, making fuel diversification essential, Woolsey said.

“Let the alcohol, the methanol producers particularly, and the gasoline producers and the natural gas producers, biodiesel producers … let everybody play.”

Woolsey, who served as CIA director under President Clinton, also is a member of the U.S. Energy Security Council. You can read this story quoting him about the vulnerability of the U.S. power grid in Forbes.

Oil closes down again, lands just above $50 mark

Whatever the floor is for oil, $50 doesn’t seem to be it.

Brent crude closed just a few barrel-drops within that threshold Friday, down 85 cents to $50.11. U.S. crude fell 43 cents to $48.36. The marks are the lowest for crude since April 2009, and represented the seventh straight week of losses.

However, prices recovered from even steeper losses during the day after Baker Hughes, the U.S. oilfield-services company, announced that the number of rigs drilling for oil domestically had fallen by 61 this week, the most during a week since 1991.

Read more in Reuters.

That contraction in supply has many observers believing that prices will find the bottom soon. Former Shell Oil President John Hofmeister, one of the experts quoted in PUMP the Movie, notes that the surplus of oil we keep hearing about only amounts to roughly 1 percent of global consumption, which is about 90 million barrels a day (The U.S. uses about 18 mbd). He thinks the current slide is an “anomaly,” and that prices will begin climbing again in the spring.

Here’s what he said on Bloomberg:

At some point … we have to reassess where are we, in terms of the supply-demand equilibrium. … I call this an anomaly, in terms of oil price, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it bottoming out … and starting to go up again late in the spring. … It doesn’t take much to wipe out this anomaly.

Tariq Zahir, managing member at Tyche Capital Advisors in Laurel Hollow in New York, told Reuters:

“In my opinion we have not stabilized out yet. I do think that after seven weeks of losses, you will see a bounceback at some point, and people are waiting for that to short into. I am.”

Throwback Thursday: Henry Ford, alcohol-fuel visionary

We might think of oil and automobiles as inextricably linked. But the earliest mass-produced vehicles were designed to run on multiple fuels, not just gasoline.

Henry Ford brought us the original mass-market flex-fuel vehicle. That fact made him one of the biggest stars of the Fuel Freedom-produced documentary PUMP the Movie, which is available on Netflix and DVD.

Ford’s Model T, introduced in 1908, could run just as well on alcohol fuels as on traditional gasoline. The driver could easily switch from one fuel to the other simply by turning a brass knob to the right of the steering column. This turned a screw in the carburetor, allowing either more or less fuel to enter the engine and mix with air. Alcohol fuel doesn’t contain as much energy as gasoline, so more of it needs to be injected to run the engine as well.

As David Blume, another PUMP star, shows in this video, drivers needed to switch between fuels because they wouldn’t know which fuel source would be available when they were out on a drive.

Henry Ford22Ford grew up on a farm in Michigan and always held farms, and farmers, dear to his heart. As historian Bill Kovarik’s fascinating study of Ford’s alcohol-fuel dedication shows, he clearly wanted to help cash-strapped farmers get into new markets by promoting agricultural products as fuel sources — not only corn, but anything else that could be fermented.

In 1919, Ford told The Christian Science Monitor (according to this New York Times account): “The fuel of the future is going to come from fruit like that sumach [a flowering plant] out by the road, or from apples, weeds, sawdust — almost anything.”

The movement to run vehicles on ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, was dealt a severe blow by the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, known as Prohibition, which banned the “manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors,” even alcohol (ethanol is also known as grain alcohol, or “moonshine”) used as a fuel. Prohibition was repealed in 1933, and by then the ethanol market was severely weakened in America. Read Bill Ganzel’s truth-stranger-than-fiction account of what happened next, when the U.S. became convinced that leaded gasoline was the best way to raise gasoline octane levels.

But ethanol has staged an epic comeback: More than 13 billion gallons was used in 2013, according to the Renewable Fuels Association. That figure could reach 36 billion gallons by 2022 if the federal government continues to mandate blending an increasing amount of ethanol into the nation’s gas supply, under the Renewable Fuel Standard guidelines.

Make your voice heard: Sign Fuel Freedom’s petition urging major independent fueling retailers like Costco and Walmart to offer ethanol as an option for their customers.

Because unlike back in the day, you don’t even need a knob to make the switch to ethanol.

Author: Dieting is a terrible metaphor for reducing emissions

Ahead of the U.N. climate conference in Paris later this year, there will be a lot of talk about how nations should apportion the burden of reducing carbon emissions. The richer, more industrialized nations have a lot of ideas about what poorer, still-developing nations should do to grow their economies without polluting the atmosphere too much.

Invariably, we might hear the term “carbon diet” come up, with its emphasis on personal sacrifice and willpower.

It’s a counterproductive metaphor, writes Lisa Margonelli, author of Oil on the Brain: Petroleum’s Long, Strange Trip to Your Tank.

In a post for Slate, as part of its “Future Tense” initiative, Margonelli writes that the “dieting” analogy is unfair to those developing countries, particularly when the richer ones are dictating the terms:

Most of the world does not need a carbon diet. Three-quarters of the global population uses just 10 percent of the world’s energy, 1 billion people lack access to electricity, and 3 billion cook their food over dung, wood, and charcoal, leading to millions of early deaths. These people are energy starved—and they need a feast, not a diet. People in Angola, Bangladesh, and Cameroon, for example, use about 250 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, while people in the U.S. use 12,246.

She goes on to argue that people in developing countries deserve the chance at economic prosperity, so rich nations should promote innovations to serve the surging energy needs in a cleaner way.

For example:

Consider air conditioning. The world uses a trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity for AC right now, and with urbanization, greater wealth, and warming, it’s projected that amount will increase tenfold by 2050, far outpacing zero-carbon electricity generation. The issue is not whether people in developing countries “should” have air conditioning—what virtue is there in dying in your apartment during a heat wave? It’s how to get it to them. AC is a crucial part of building the knowledge economy employment that will eventually bring down carbon emissions because it increases the productivity of people and computers. Without AC there would be no grand economies in Hong Kong, Atlanta, or Bangalore.

The main reason the “diet” metaphor fails is that it suggests that the world’s problems can be solved by individual willpower.

The real issue with the carbon diet is that it suggests that we can deal with climate change as easily as we might switch to gluten-free pasta and beer, via willpower and careful substitution, when what we’ll really need is some kind of revolution in our thinking and technology.

On top of all that, most diets don’t work in the long term anyway. Which some people, sadly, are about to find out, a few weeks into their well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions.

(Photo: Yao ethnic minority women cook dinner on a smoke-spewing stove in Longji, China, in 2010. Credit: CHEN WS, for Shutterstock.com)

Oil prices have dropped nearly 10 percent in two days

Oil analysts must be asking, Where’s the bottom of the oil-price plunge?

Crude dropped again Tuesday, as Brent was off $2.01, to $51.10 a barrel. In the first two trading sessions of the week, it’s down $5.32, or almost 10 percent.

More from Reuters.

U.S. crude closed down $2.11, or 4.2 percent, to $47.93.

By comparison, Brent was at $115 and U.S. crude at $107 last June.

Phillip Streible, a senior market strategist at RJO Futures in Chicago, told Reuters that “$46 to $45 is quite likely. … People, I think, are further understanding that the U.S. is becoming a powerhouse in creating crude oil and that’s not going to change anytime soon.”

But Saudi Arabia also shows no sign of reducing production quotas, an effort some OPEC members want to prop up prices. Forbes’ Nathan Vardi quoted a Saudi expert named F. Gregory Gause, a professor at Texas A&M University, who said:

“The most important thing for the Saudis is market share. They are not going to sacrifice it, they will play chicken with other producers, whether Iranian or American shale producers, in order not to lose market share and the only way they will cut production is if they get an agreement with a broad array of OPEC and non-OPEC producers to take a fair amount of oil off the market.”

CNN Money has a story about the thousands of workers supporting North Dakota’s oil boom who’ve been laid off in recent weeks, as drillers delay expansion because the cost of extracting oil from shale-rock formations is too steep compared with the going rate of crude.

Jeff Sharpe got the bad news 10 days before Thanksgiving. He and 21 coworkers at a rig in Wyoming were laid off due to depressed oil and natural gas prices.

“All my friends and family keep talking (positively) about low prices. When I say, ‘We’re all out of jobs now,’ they say ‘Oh,'” Sharpe, 32, told CNNMoney. “I don’t think they realize what’s going on in the big picture.”