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What do family ties have to do with E85?

Andrews2Going through scrapbooks last night brought back memories concerning my uncle, Billy Swanson (his performing name, given name William Sneirson). He was one of my favorites. He led a band during the late thirties and early forties that for a short time worked with a group called the Andrews Sisters.

Somewhere in my family archives, I have been told that we have cancelled checks for $100 for each of the three sisters. Pretty pricey in those days. My uncle and the Andrews Sisters played at the Hotel Edison in New York City. Soon after my uncle and the Andrews Sisters parted ways, the sisters recorded a song called “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” written by Sammy Cahn and others. As many in the AARP know, the record sold millions and was recorded subsequently by many many singers. It is now almost an American music icon.

I couldn’t get the music out of my mind and have hummed it all day long while thinking about my day job trying to convince Americans to wean themselves off of gasoline on to alternative fuels. As President Obama has said, moving on to alternative fuels (like E85) would be good for the environment, the economy, reduce GHG emissions, and lower costs to consumers. Thinking and humming … I tried a rewrite of the lyrics to “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen (translated from the Yiddish, the title means “To Me You’re Beautiful” … here are the lyrics.) Sorry, Sammy … sorry Patty, Laverne and Maxine. Please forgive, and I hope that you understand. Paraphrasing a former Secretary of Defense, what’s good for “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” is good for America. … Bring it on, Johnny Mathis.

(Please, if you remember, sing to the tune of “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen”)

Of all the gas stations, I’ve known and I’ve known some
Until I first met you I was lonesome
And when you came in sight, dear, my heart and mind grew light
And this old world seemed new to me

You’re really swell, I have to admit you
Deserve expressions that really fit you
And so I’ve racked my brain hoping to explain
All the things that you do for flex-fuel vehicles and me and you

Bei mir bist du schön, please let me explain
‘Bei mir bist du schön’ means you’re grand
Bei mir bist du schön, again I’ll explain
It means you’re the fairest gas station in the land

I could say ‘bella, bella’ even ‘sehr wunderbar’
Each language only helps me tell you how grand you are
I’ve tried to explain, ‘bei mir bist du schön’
Please continue doing what you’re doing for America and say you understand

Bei mir bist du schön
You’ve heard it all before but let me try to explain
‘Bei mir bist du schön’ means that selling E 85 is grand
‘Bei mir bist du schön,’ it’s such an old refrain
And I again should explain, it means you r doing good for our air and land.

I could say ‘bella, bella’ even ‘sehr wunderbar’
Each language only helps me tell you how grand you are
I’ve tried to explain ‘bei mir bist du schn’
And I should  conclude by saying  thanks for lower fuel prices and say that you l understand!

The calls are already coming in. Maybe I will do it for Motown!

 

Optimist and pessimist, the Oil & Gas Journal and replacement fuels

“The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds and the pessimist fears this is true” — James Branch Cabell. Or, as I once said in a presentation in China after Tiananmen Square, “a strategic optimist is a realist with brains.”

I live with the hope we can do better as nation with respect to the environment, our economy and the quality of life choices open to Americans, particularly low- and moderate-income Americans. But I worry that given the ideological and related political divisiveness among us, we may not.

In this context, after reading the recent article, “SAFE: Report’s ‘flash points’ emphasize US transportation fuel problem” in the Oil & Gas Journal, often seen by some as a mouthpiece for the oil industry, my thoughts reflected both optimism and pessimism. I concluded that I was a realist tempered by experience (and hopefully with a brain). Okay, what did the piece suggest that stimulated my mental and emotional adrenaline? Two or three quotes used by the author Nick Snow, respected Washington editor of OGJ, taken from a national conference convened by Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE):

“A proliferation of global oil geopolitical ‘flash points’ (e.g., conflicts in countries or within countries that limit or could limit the supply of oil) makes it even more urgent for the U.S. to aggressively reduce its dependence on crude oil for transportation fuels…If we could be only 65% dependent on oil for our transportation fuels by 2025 instead of 90%, it would make a tremendous difference…We also need better politics developed by people who can find win-win situations so we can move forward…We all agree that we need to diversify our transportation sources away from oil.”

Nick Snow is no blazing liberal. According to his resume, Mr. Snow has spent 30 years or so as a journalist covering oil issues, many of those for media outlets friendly to oil interests (e.g., Oil Daily).

Have we reached nirvana? Did the article in the OGJ signal that big or small oil companies will soon announce their commitment to replacement fuels, like natural gas-based ethanol and methanol? Their support, given the fact that some oil companies already own significant natural gas fields, could be important from a public policy and an “on the ground production and distribution” perspective.

When I was a kid, older members of my family, if they wanted something but knew it was impossible to secure, would say, “I should live so long.” In some respects, while I’m surprised by the selected quotes used in the article by Mr. Snow, I doubt it heralds an epiphany by leaders of the oil industry or their companies.

Why am I a wannabe optimist but a realistic pessimist? Oil companies’ primary behavior over the past decade or more has been to oppose the development of most replacement fuels, FFVs and open fuel markets. Sometimes they have done this through other organizations that they influence or control, and sometimes directly. Clearly, gas station franchises granted by oil companies remain tied to a “just say no” position on replacement fuels, or a back- or side-of-the-station mandate concerning location of replacement-fuel pumps. For the most part, their reaction to “flash points” has been “drill, baby, drill,” and their battle cry has been that only more drilling will make the nation oil independent. This is a curious stance, since companies are simultaneously seeking to increase their ability to export globally. America still imports about a third of its oil, while retail prices for gasoline at most stations remain high.

I’m afraid that the OGJ piece by Snow is not a harbinger of good tidings concerning oil company endorsement of replacement fuels — at least any time soon. Rather, the article reflects a willingness of the author to honestly describe a major issue facing the nation, that is, the disproportionate share of oil in transportation fuels. Regrettably, excluded from the piece is a narrative about the fact that oil converted to gasoline has a significant negative effect on the environment, and that oil imports still take a toll on the economy. Replacement fuels would address security, environmental and economic issues, and related national objectives in a much more positive way.

I have a vested interest in remembering the famous Andrews Sisters. How many of you remember them? They played in my uncle’s band for a short time. So let me end, somewhat inappropriately, using the last stanza of one of their hit tunes “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” by composer Sammy Fain. I am sure neither the sisters nor Sammy would mind. With respect to the oil companies, “I am aware. My heart is a sad affair. There is much disillusion there. But I can dream, can’t I?”

Dreaming is about all you can do now, with respect to getting oil companies to develop, or support the development of, flexible replacement fuels. Maybe someday!