Oil-Induced Rail Chaos Driving Up Gas Prices

The railroad industry is America is struggling to keep up with demand and according the Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), this is negatively affecting deliveries of ethanol and biofuel co-products. In a letter to Ed Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads (AAR), Dinneen sent a list of questions that address the “abject failure of the rail system to adequately address the needs of all of its customers.”

According to Dinneen, U.S. ethanol is the lowest price liquid transportation in the world, saving American consumers between $0.50 and $1.50 per gallon. He writes, “Over the past several weRail car getting filled with ethanol at Patriot Renewable Fuels biorefineryeks, however, the sheer chaos that is today’s rail system is denying consumers that price relief by driving up the transportation cost for and impacting the supply of ethanol and other commodities. Nothing has changed with regard to ethanol production costs or efficiencies. The only change has been abject failure of the rail system to adequately address the needs of all its customers. The U.S. economy is suffering as a consequence.”

Dinneen says the letter spells out in clear detail the limiting impact the rail situation is having on the ethanol industry. He writes, “In response to increasing demand, the ethanol industry was producing at an average rate of 949,000 barrels per day (bpd) in December 2013. But disarray on the rail system in the first quarter of 2014 has forced ethanol producers to significantly curtail output. By the first week of March 2014, ethanol output had fallen to 869,000 bpd, as producers were forced to slow down. Onsite storage tanks were brimming full and, in many cases, the railcars and/or locomotives needed to ship ethanol were simply not available. As a result, ethanol stocks in key regions have been depleted and prices have increased. All of this is due to the turmoil on the rails—dislocated railcars and locomotives, increased terminal dwell times, slower train speeds, an insufficient number of crews, and a shortage of spare railcars and locomotives.”

The railroad industry has blamed the winter weather as the major problem but Dinneen says this is simply an excuse. “The railroads have attributed this lackluster performance and inefficiency to winter weather. But they seem to have forgotten that winter comes every year!… Indeed, a more plausible explanation for the severity of the current epidemic is the explosive growth in railcar shipments of Bakken and Canadian crude oil.”

Dinneen continues, “The surge in crude oil production from fracking has reshuffled the existing fleet of railcars and locomotives, pressured lease rates, changed normal rail traffic patterns, and generally exerted significant stress on the rail system. According to AAR, crude oil shipments have increased from 9,344 carloads in 2008 to 434,032 carloads in 2013. In addition, AAR data show rail shipments of industrial sand nearly tripled between 2008 and 2013, stating, ‘…frac sand is almost certainly the primary driver behind the increased industrial sand movements on railroads over the past few years.’ It seems absurd to suggest, as some have, that the efficiency of the rail system has been unaffected by the 4545% increase in crude oil shipments and the 170% increase in sand shipments since 2008.”

Click here to view the list of questions and the full letter.

ACE: Blend Wall Cost Reporting Wrong

Several recent media reports have reported that the “blend wall” cost refiners nearly $1.35 billion last year. The blend wall is the amount of ethanol that can be blended into the fuel supply. Today is this considered “E10″ and for the most part this has been achieved. The next step to hurdle the so called blend wall is to either increase the amount of ethanol Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 10.59.49 AMblended into the fuel supply, such as E15 which is a voluntary blend (retailers can choose to blend E15 and consumers can choose to purchase E15) or to promote mid-level or higher blends of ethanol such as E85, which can be used in flex-fuel vehicles.

In response to these reports, Ron Lamberty, senior vice president for the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) called them “incomplete and misleading”. A recent Reuters article said that was the amount nine companies paid for Renewable Identification Number (RINs), which are credits refiners provide to EPA to prove they bought the amount of renewable fuels required by law. RINs are free to refiners who blend biofuels, while refiners who choose not to blend biofuels can buy RINs from companies that blend more than the law requires.

“Those refiners made a business decision to purchase credits instead of ethanol. Reports aren’t honest if they fail to point out that those nine refiners paid $1.35 billion dollars to other refiners for those companies’ excess RINs.” said Lamberty. “The “blend wall” provided $1.35 billion dollars of income to some refiners, which reduced their cost of fuel.”

Lamberty said ACE would like to see more RINs generated by retailers, since they generally use the additional funds to reduce prices at the pumps. “Unfortunately, at the same time oil companies are complaining about RINs and the “blend wall,” they enforce policies that won’t allow their branded marketers to sell E15 and higher ethanol blends,” Lamberty said. “Station owners who offer E15, E85, and other blends generally sell about 20% ethanol overall, making more RINs available. And when they sell RINs, they pass most of the value of those RINs on to customers in the form of lower pump prices.”

Advanced Biofuels in Tax Extenders Bill

aeclogoThe cellulosic biofuels industry was very pleased to see the Senate Finance Committee markup of a package of tax extenders that includes the Producer Tax Credit (PTC) and the special depreciation allowance for advanced biofuels.

“The cellulosic biofuel industry is just breaking through at commercial scale. Today’s markup sends a clear signal to the marketplace that Congress is making progress on extending its support for one of the most innovative, low carbon industries in the world,” said Brooke Coleman, Executive Director of the Advanced Ethanol Council (AEC). “It will be very important to move this package along quickly, as executives in our industry are weighing the pros and cons of developing the next wave of projects here or abroad.”

Advanced-Biofuels-Association-Logo“We applaud the Finance Committee and Chairman Wyden for supporting the advanced biofuels tax incentives included in the extenders legislation,” added Advanced Biofuels Association president Michael McAdams. “These extenders send a significant signal to the advanced and cellulosic industry and to the markets regarding the sustained support at the federal level, and our members appreciate the certainty of a two-year extension.”

Companies like Novozymes that are members of these organizations are very happy with the action. “When you’re on a road trip, you don’t stop every 10 minutes to put in one gallon—you fill up for the long haul. That’s what these tax credits and renewable fuel policies like the RFS need too: Fuel for the long haul to drive investment, create jobs and move our economy forward.” said Adam Monroe, Novozymes President, Americas.

The Second Generation Biofuel Producer Tax Credit, Special Depreciation Allowance for Second Generation Biofuel Plant Property, Biodiesel and Renewable Diesel Fuels Credit, and the Alternative Fuel and Alternative Fuel Mixture Excise Tax Credit all expired at the end of 2013. This package extends them through 2015 adding certainty for the advanced biofuel industry and its investors.

Oil Spills & Contaminated Gas – Ethanol Takes On API

RFA_GrowthEnergy_Dear_Oil_AdA recent edition of the New York Times and Politico have published what the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) and Growth Energy are calling “good-humored, but factual takedown of Big Oil’s false, hypocritical attacks against clean, renewable ethanol”.

In response to American Petroleum Institute’s (API) current national anti-biofuel campaign, the two ethanol associations have published an ad that is an open letter to Jack Gerard, API president in Politico and all DC editions of the New York Times.

Dinneen and Buis write, “Despite the millions of dollars your industry has spent on bogus TV ads, there hasn’t been a single reported case of engine damage from ethanol blended fuels like E15. But last week, Exxon admitted selling customers in Louisiana more than 5 million gallons of oil-based gasoline that was so bad that it’s been stopping cars dead in their tracks. In fact, one auto shop reported 40 or 50 customers who had trouble starting their engines as a result of Exxon’s contaminated gas. That’s 40 or 50 more cases of engine problems than have been reported in the entire country from E15, and that’s just one shop in Baton Rouge!”

With summer around the corner consumers are getting their boats ready for the waters and API has taken the opportunity to run ads about boats not being able to use E15 or other higher blends of ethanol. However, what API does not acknowledge is that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not approve E15 for small engines or boats.

Going directly at the current API boat ads, the open letter continues, “While your ads are misleading people about the impact of ethanol on marine engines, boats in Houston are in dry dock because of your oil spill! In fact, that one company has been fined for 77 different oil spills since 2008, which means they have averaged more than one oil spill per month for the last six years. That’s a lot of boaters impacted by oil spills, Jack.”

The open letter is summed up in one simple closing thought, “You see, Jack, the real environmental peril is oil, not renewable fuels like ethanol.”

Midtex Oil Offers E85 in San Marcos, Texas

Midtex Oil, L.P. is now offering E85 at its Spirit-branded convenience store located in San Marcos, Texas. Its fifth E85 station in the state, it is located off the interstate at 1214 IH-35 South, San Marcos, TX 78666.

Midtex Oil E85 pump in San Marcos Texas“Our local drivers are savvy enough to know the benefits of E85 fuel,” said Rodney Fischer, owner, Midtex Oil. “When we put up that E85 sign, we usually don’t even need to advertise about ethanol. It speaks for itself. This is one of several eco initiatives we have at Midtex.”

According to Midtex Oil, by offering this blend of 85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline, these E85 stations will help the area reduce emissions, lower dependence on foreign oil and spur domestic economic growth.

“We have a longstanding benefit from Midtex’s bullishness on giving their customers more choice in fuels, that also happen to be better for the environment,” said Steve Walk, an Executive Director of Protec Fuel who worked with MidTex Oil to install the E85 pump. “This E85 station is instrumental in the greater Austin and San Antonio area to provide the building blocks for additional higher ethanol blends, like up-and-coming E15.” Protec also did a complete dispenser island renovation at this Spirit.

San Marcos, San Antonio, New Braunfels, Kyle and Austin are all also home to other E85 stations as well, making it very convenient for Flex-fuel (FFV) drivers utilizing E85 to fuel up.

“The Lone Star Clean Fuels Alliance and its stakeholders are pleased to see more E85 available in the region,” added Stacy Neef, Exec. Director of the Austin-based Clean Cities coalition. “The choice of E85 provides a large proportion of vehicles on the road today the ability to choose an alternative fuel at the pump, since half the new U.S.-produced cars can use E85.”

Iowa Senate Votes for Renewable Fuels

The Iowa State Senate has voted unanimously (48-0) to pass Senate File 2344. The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) commended the Senate and noted the policy move showed tremendous, bipartisan support for renewable fuels.

“I applaud the Iowa Senate for voting unanimously to protect Iowa jobs and access to homegrown, clean-burning renewable fuels,” said IRFA Policy Director Grant Menke. “This vote sends a clear message that Iowans are serious about increasing renewable fuels Iowa fuel pumpproduction and use, expanding consumer fuel choice and growing Iowa’s economy.”

With renewable fuels producers facing significant federal policy uncertainty, Senate File 2344 protects Iowa’s renewable fuels industry by extending the state’s biodiesel production tax credit that is set to expire at the end of this year, and enhancing the state’s E15 retailer tax credit to help alleviate extra costs to Iowa retailers who want to offer E15 as a registered fuel during the summer driving season. The bill also updates Iowa Code to define biobutanol as a legal renewable fuel option for Iowans.

Iowa’s biodiesel producer incentive offers a $.02 per gallon refundable credit on the first 25 million gallons of biodiesel produced in any single plant. The incentive is set to expire at the end of calendar year 2014, but the legislation passed by the senate would extend the credit through 2019.

An amendment added to the bill would also extend an Iowa retailer credit of 4.5 cents per gallon for 5 percent biodiesel (B5) through 2019. It was set to expire in 2017. The amendment also extends retailer tax credits for biodiesel, E15 and E85.

The Iowa Biodiesel Board (IBB) commended the vote. “This state policy will encourage biodiesel production to remain in Iowa, which benefits Iowa’s economy and reputation as an American energy producer,” said Grant Kimberley, executive director of IBB. “It will also help shelter our state’s biodiesel industry from the impact of uncertainty over the federal Renewable Fuel Standard and other federal policies.”

BioFuel PR Launches to Tell Ethanol’s Story

The ethanol industry knows that if it is going to be successful in the current political climate, they need to tell their personal ethanol stories. But this is easier said then done with the role of ethanol employees to produce fuel, feed and fiber – not be savvy BiofuelPRlogocommunicators. With several requests for help last fall from ethanol plants to help tell the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) their stories as part of the 2014 proposed rules for the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), ethanol veteran Joshua Morby and alternative energy veteran and ZimmComm New Media writer Joanna Schroeder teamed up to form a unique partnership: Biofuel PR.

The new communications firm is the first and only of its kind dedicated to the biofuels industry and according to Biofuel PR Partner Joshua Morby, brings together expertise from two decades of experience working with ethanol trade associations, key stakeholders and legislators to offer the biofuel industry a new communications solution.

JoshuaMorbyHeadshotDFMorby notes that there are a number of effective national trade and industry organizations that are doing a great job developing messaging, framing the issues and providing content. But while the associations allow their members to utilize their materials in the local market, many ethanol plants just don’t know how.

“The challenge that exists is the missing link at the local level. There’s no argument about the need for activity in communities across the country. The issue has always been who at the biofuels plant is tasked with telling the local story. That’s where we come in,” says Joshua.

Not only is enhancing a biofuel plant’s message in the local community important, but DF blogger and communications expert Joanna Schroeder notes that as a writer looking for new and intriguing angles, its hard to find great personal ethanol stories. But when she does, they receive great coverage around the world of the web.

SchroederheadshotDF“If there is one thing I understand, it’s that the role of a biorefinery is to produce renewable, cost competitive biofuels and byproducts – not to be communication experts,” explains Schroeder, Biofuel PR partner. “Our firm is able to serve in this role and take the lead on telling Americans the personal and often emotional stories about what the biofuels industry means to them, their families and their communities. Since I am always looking for the story, I know how to help biofuel plants better tell their stories and as a result, help gain awareness and support for ethanol around the country.”

Granite Falls Ethanol was one of the plants assisted by Biofuel PR during the EPA comment period.

“The team at Biofuel PR was helpful to us in our efforts to motivate local supporters and members of our community during the RFS comment period,” says Granite Falls Ethanol General Manager Steve Christiansen. “Biofuel PR understands our industry, the local communities were we live and operate as well as the world of communications.”

Corn Growers at Biofuels Beltway March

ace14-dc-corn-teamMore than 80 people turned out for the American Coalition for Ethanol Biofuels Beltway March this year, the most ever, and the diverse group included ethanol producers, retailers, bankers, truckers, cattle ranchers, students – and a whole bunch of corn farmers. The team here consisted of (LtoR) Missouri farmer Gary Porter, Missouri Corn Growers public policy director Shane Kinne, and Minnesota farmers on the board of Chippewa Valley Ethanol Dale Tolifson and Dave Thompson.

Cindy caught up with them as they were heading out of the Capitol after making their rounds and asked them each to give a brief impression of their visits.

Shane said the highlight of the trip was getting folks into meet with their lawmakers, telling the personal stories of farmers and fuel retailers and how ethanol is making a difference.

“They have a great story to tell, and it makes a huge difference when [lawmakers] hear it firsthand.” Shane said.

Gary said he appreciated the different points of view that he heard, such as viewpoints from folks not from the Midwest who aren’t involved in ag or ethanol.

“It’s interesting for me to talk to them and listen to what they say, and also for me to share with them the way I see it,” adding that since he’s a corn grower, cattle feeder and fuel retailer, he has a pretty well-rounded view and is willing to talk to even those he doesn’t agree with.

“That’s the ones we need to talk to,” Dave pointed out. “Even though they didn’t agree with us, they were very receptive to listening, they had good questions, and I think we have a great story to tell.”

Dale echoed those sentiments and was glad to tell his personal story.

“We tell about our experiences on the farm, how we helped grow the ethanol industry, and how that industry is not only important for clean air, but it’s important for jobs and the ag community,” as well as advancements in agriculture that wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for ethanol, including boosting yields to meet all demands.

Listen to what they said here: Interview with Biofuels March team


2014 ACE Biofuels Beltway March photo album

Prospective Plantings Down, But Corn Stocks High

ncga-logo-newThis year’s corn plantings are expected to be down this year, but growers say there will be plenty of stockpiles for all needs, including ethanol. The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show that American farmers expect to plant 3.7 million fewer acres of corn this year, down four percent from 2013. But the National Corn Growers Association says, don’t worry, there are plenty of stocks going into the year, and it would still be the fifth-largest U.S. corn acreage planted.

“In 2013, U.S. farmers produced a record crop abundant enough to meet all needs and provide an ample carry over into 2014,” National Corn Growers Association President Martin Barbre said. “While it is still early in the season and many factors may change the reality on the ground as planting progresses, the public can rest assured that bountiful stockpiles and adequate plantings will ensure our corn security for the year to come.”

NCGA says the plantings will yield 13.37 billion bushels, and corn stocks stand at more than 7 billion bushels, up 30 percent from the same time last year.

EPA Approves Summer Gasoline RVP Requests

As reported by Platts, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved Florida’s and North Carolina’s requests to allow certain counties to continue using 9 RVP gasoline through the summer season (or known as the traditional VOC reduction season). As it relates to ethanol, this allows these counties to blend E15 (15 percent ethanol, 85 percent gasoline) throughout the summer. Last year, states including Iowa were unable to sell the E15 blend due to VOC requirements.

EPA_LOGOEPA Gina McCarthy signed the unofficial document on March 19, 2014 and has submitted the document for publication in the Federal Register. The EPA regulates gasoline volatility, measured by Reid Vapor pressure during the “summer season” from June 1 through September 15. Platts reports that for refiners and terminals, this period shifts from May 1 through September 15.

The counties approved for the 9 RVP gasoline include Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill and Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point areas in North Carolina and Broward, Dale, Duval, Hillsborough, Palm Beach and Penella, all counties in and around Miami, Florida. Prior to the approval, these counties were only approved to use 7.8 RVP gasoline during this time frame.

Platts reports the rule is expected to go into effect without future notice unless the EPA receives negative comments within 30 days of the rules publication in the Federal Register.

It should be noted that this ruling, once in effect, could encourage other counties or states to also submit requests to the EPA for approval to sell the 9 RVP gasoline during the June 1 – September 25 time frame as a means to be approved to legally sell E15 year round to vehicles and light duty trucks manufactured in 2001 or later.

Retailers Tell Ethanol Story at ACE Fly-in

Fuel retailers in ethanol producing states had compelling stories to tell at the American Coalition for Ethanol Biofuels Beltway March last week in Washington DC. Several of them sat down with reporters during the event to talk about their success selling higher ethanol blends, as well as the hurdles they had to overcome to do so.

ace14-dc-badenhopGlenn Bedanhop is a third generation farmer who is also president and CEO of American Freedom Energy in the small town of Liberty Center, about 30 miles west of Toledo, Ohio. “It’s rewarding knowing the value you’re putting back in your local community,” said Badenhop, who became the first retailer in Ohio to offer E15 in January because he believes in consumer choice. “It’s their choice,” he said. “We’re not mandating that they buy Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper – it’s just like the fuels.” Interview with Glenn Badenhop, Ohio fuel retailer

ace14-dc-goodCharlie Good has been in the fuel retailing business for 34 years as a convenience store operator and auto mechanic and he started offering higher ethanol blends at his Good and Quick store in Nevada, Iowa last August despite his supplier’s objections. “I had to de-brand because the oil company didn’t want that under their canopy,” said Good. “My sales are up 20-25% a month and of the gallons that they’re up, virtually all of it is the ethanol fuels.” Interview with Charlie Good, Iowa fuel retailer

ace14-dc-vollanBruce Vollan started using blender pumps at his rural Baltic, South Dakota convenience store six years ago. “My experience has been pretty incredible,” he said. “You see a lot of people actively seeking out blends.” Vollan has seen his small business has grown to 13 full and part time employees and he says the negative publicity about ethanol doesn’t bother him because he believes he’s on the right team. He was happy to take time away from his business to take his story to Washington DC and let lawmakers and bureaucrats know what is really happening. “That’s what the ethanol industry is all about,” he said. “It’s about telling the truth.” Interview with Bruce Vollan, South Dakota fuel retailer


2014 ACE Biofuels Beltway March photo album

Coverage is sponsored in part by Patriot Renewable Fuels

IRFA: Strong Plantings Report Calls for Strong RFS

IowaRFAlogoExpected big plantings of corn and soybeans underscore the need for a strong Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). New estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) show a possible record amount of soybeans expected to be planted this year and the fifth largest corn acreage to be planted as well. The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) says these factors show why a strong and growing RFS is needed this year.

“The past eight years were prosperous for agriculture because the RFS was allowed to act as a sponge, soaking up additional corn and soybeans when needed,” stated IRFA Executive Director Monte Shaw. “The vast amount of corn and soybeans expected to be planted in 2014 demonstrates the importance of a strong and growing RFS. If the EPA’s proposal to essentially gut the RFS is allowed to become final, we could see huge carryovers, crop prices plummet below the cost of production, and family farms placed in jeopardy.”

Nearly 92 million acres is expected to be dedicated to corn this year and a record 81.5 million acres for soybeans, a six percent increase from last year.

EPA’s Feeling About RFS? Depends Who’s Asking

epa-logoHow does the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) feel about its proposal to cut the amount of ethanol and biodiesel to be blended into the Nation’s fuel supply? Well, that depends on who the folks at the agency are talking to.

Speaking before the House Appropriations Committee last week, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy seemed to backtrack on last January’s statements before biofuels advocates when she told them that her agency “heard loud and clear that we didn’t hit that right,” indicating the EPA could be changing its stance. But when grilled by Congressman David Valadao (R-CA) who represents California agriculture and oil interests, McCarthy had a different response.

“We’re going to make sure to take a reasonable approach that recognizes the infrastructure challenges and the inability at this point to achieve the levels of ethanol that are in the law,” she said.

It’s also interesting that McCarthy did not challenge part of the premise in Valadao’s original question that stated how consumers’ vehicles could not handle higher blends than being offered right now, specifically E10. Biofuels advocates have long made the claim that most vehicles can handle at least 15 percent ethanol blends (E15), and two years ago the EPA approved E15 for use in 2001 and newer vehicles.

You can hear for yourself what McCarthy said here: EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy Before House Appropriations Committee

Sen. Thune Meets with Ethanol Supporters

ace14-dc-thune-groupA team of four biofuels supporters had the chance to meet with Sen. John Thune (R-SD) last week while in Washington DC for the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) Biofuels Beltway March.

In an interview following that meeting, Thune talked about some of the issues facing the biofuels industry, in particular the EPA proposal to lower volume requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard. “Trying to reverse the EPA’s decision on this is what we’ve been focused on since it came out,” said Sen. Thune.”Going down to 13.1 gallons is horrible for the industry so we hope they make some accommodation for getting beyond the blend wall.”

Thune says he expects to Congress to get a package of expired tax credit extensions passed soon, including renewable energy credits for wind, advanced biofuels, and biodiesel. “It’s very hard for people to plan to invest when they don’t know what the rules are going to be,” he said.

The senator also talked about the rail delays that have been impacting shipments of ethanol and grain. “The railroads are going to have to do a better job,” he said, noting that the problem has been caused by both the long, cold winter and increased shipping of crude oil from North Dakota. “It’s important that the railroads recognize that agricultural commodities need to be shipped too.” Interview with Senator John Thune (R-SD)

2014 ACE Biofuels Beltway March photo album

Coverage is sponsored in part by Patriot Renewable Fuels

DF Cast: Lawmakers Listening to Ethanol Advocates

Ethanol backers got their voices heard during the recent American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) Biofuels Beltway March in Washington, D.C. And at least some lawmakers were listening.

In this edition of the Domestic Fuel Cast, we talk to Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE), and Sen. John Thune (R-SD), who met with ACE and its supporters and all expressed their backing of efforts to keep renewable fuels, especially ethanol, in the forefront of federal policies.

Listen to what they had to say after they listened to ACE: Domestic Fuel Cast - Lawmakers Meet with Ethanol Advocates

You can also subscribe to the DomesticFuel Cast here.

2014 ACE Biofuels Beltway March photo album

Coverage is sponsored in part by Patriot Renewable Fuels