U.S. Military Plan: Get Off Oil By 2040

By Bill Moore

Posted: 12 Oct 2010

In September, the Center for New American Security (CNAS) issued a 36-page study entitled Fueling the Future Force: Preparing the Department of Defense for a Post-Petroleum Era. Now if the title weren't suggestive enough, the target date of 2040 -- 30 years from now -- should set off klaxons from Maine to Guam.

Prepared in close consultation with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, as well as the major branches of U.S. Armed Forces and other government agencies, the key authors -- Christine Pathemore and John Nagl -- conclude that the military has three decades to dramatically reduce its dependence on petroleum, the fuel that powers 77 percent of the America's fighting machinery.

Why the urgency and why get off of oil? The map at the end of the commentary shows why. It has to do with who has the oil and how fast they are extracting it. The lighter the shades of blue, the shorter the time span until the process of extraction becomes economically unfeasible. Soberingly, CNAS analysts project the United States has just 11 years of reserve-to-production (R/P) capacity. Neighboring Canada, our largest external supplier, 28 years. Meanwhile, Venezuela, Iraq, Iran, the Emirates and Saudi Arabia all have 100 years of R/P capacity.

Parthemore and Nagl state in the introduction to their paper…

To ready America’s armed forces for tomorrow’s challenges, DOD should ensure that it can operate all of its systems on non-petroleum fuels by 2040. This 30-year timeframe reflects market indicators pointing toward both higher demand for petroleum and increasing international competition to acquire it. Moreover, the geology and economics of producing petroleum will ensure that the market grows tight long before petroleum reserves are depleted. Some estimates indicate that the current global reserve-to-production (R/P) ratio – how fast the world will produce all currently known recoverable petroleum reserves at the current rate of production – is less than 50 years.2 Thus, given projected supply and demand, we cannot assume that oil will remain affordable or that supplies will be available to the United States reliably three decades hence. Ensuring that DOD can operate on non-petroleum fuels 30 years from today is a conservative hedge against prevailing economic, political and environmental trends, conditions and constraints.
Beyond Jet8
Fueling Future Force recommends that the DoD shift from petroleum-based fuels because of its risks to national security. One option is biofuels derived from renewable sources. The USAF A-10 "Warthog" fighter jet pictured above is flying on the first 50/50 blend of Hydrotreated Renewable Jet (HRJ) fuel and conventional JP-8. It flew without incident last March 25th off the coast of Florida. According to the USAF, it is the largest consumer of jet fuel in the DoD, annually burning 2.4 billion gallons. Beyond the A-10, the Air Force will conduct similar tests on an F-15 Eagle, C17 Globemaster III and eventually the F-22 Raptor. By 2012, the service wants to have all of the aircraft in its inventory certified for alternative fuels.

In addition to the strategic need to shift away from petroleum, there is the economic one: every $1 increase in the price of a barrel of oil costs the Department of Defense an additional $130 million. The CNAS document emphasizes, "DOD should also consider fuel affordability: whether its supply systems will be able to operate for sustained periods of time without crippling negative direct costs and externalities," driven largely by increasing global demand as noted by the following:

The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that world energy demand will grow from its 2007 level of 495.2 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) to 738.7 quadrillion Btu by 2035 – a steep increase. If current trends continue, energy demand in non-OECD countries will grow more than four times faster than in OECD countries.8 Global petroleum demand has increased steadily from about 63 million barrels of oil per day in 1980 to more than 85 million barrels today, and will grow to 110.6 million barrels per day by 2035 if current trends hold.
Prescription for Ending Addiction
Fueling Future Force lists a set of recommendations for each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces on page 13. These include for the Air Force setting a 2016 target of having 50% of domestic fuel requirements met by domestically-produced alternative fuel blends. For the Navy, development of a Green Strike Group made up of nuclear vessels and ships powered by biofuel hybrid-electric propulsions systems; and be ready to deploy by 2016. The Army will "reduce the amounts of power and fuel consumed… at home and in theatre." The Marine Corps would reduce its energy intensity 30% by 2015, relative to a 2003 baseline.

In addition to these steps, CNAS offers 12 additional measures that need to be taken, the last being "Plan for the Worst."

If worst-case scenarios transpire, they could cost DOD its ability to operate effectively. DOD, including the war colleges, combatant commands and OSD, has already conducted war games and scenario exercises that include fuel shortages, extended blackouts and other contingencies. DOD must continue to think through these kinds of scenarios, compile lessons learned from them and apply them to its energy calculations.
Those worse-case scenarios include petroleum "off-ramps" leading to dead-ends technologically, economically, and politically.

Maybe the most important lesson to be gleaned is that if the Department of Defense is concerned about the future of oil, then maybe the rest of us should be too?

map of reserves-to-production ratios among oil producing countries.

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