By Julianne Geiger
If climate change and the use of fossil fuels is starting to worry you, consider this: The lion’s share of the petroleum in the United States is being used just to get around–to get people and things from point A to point B.
Industrial, residential, commercial and electrical power usage of petroleum pales in comparison.
Fossil fuels–which include crude oil and other liquids–are refined into petroleum products for a multitude of uses, and last year, the United States consumed over 20 million barrels per day.
A whopping 69 percent of that was consumed by transportation. Industry, which the masses like to villainize most in terms of fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, used only 25 percent. Residential usage accounted for only 3 percent of our petroleum consumption, and commercial, only 2 percent.
What about electricity? American electricity generation used only 1 percent of those petroleum products.
So, for anyone looking to pinpoint where we need to start cheerleading for renewables or fossil-fuels shaming, here are the top 5 uses of petroleum products to help redirect the debate:
#5 Oceans of Plastic: Still Gas, 0.703M BPD
While primarily referring to methane and ethane, “still gas” is any form or mixture of gases produced in refineries by distillation, cracking, reforming, and other processes. That means it also includes ethylene, normal butane, butylenes, propane, propylene, and others.
It’s used most as refinery fuel or petrochemical feedstock.
The conversion factor is 6 million Btus per fuel oil equivalent barrel.
U.S. refineries burned nearly 240 million barrels of still gas in 2018.
But petrochemicals are one of the largest drivers of global oil demand, so it’s a circular competition here for still gas.
This still gas makes its way into everything from plastics, fertilizers and packaging to clothing, digital devices, medical equipment, detergents and tires.
In fact, one key beneficiary of the American natural gas boom has been the global plastics industry.
The U.S. is producing so much natural gas and ethane that it’s beyond what American chemical plants actually need. As it turns out, the global plastics industry is happy to take it off their hands at cut-rate prices.
So, all those oceans of plastic–thank the U.S. shale boom.
#4 ‘Shameful’ Jet Fuel, 1.71M bpd
In 2018, the United States sucked up over 1.7 million barrels per day of kerosene-type jet fuel.
This is part of the argument underpinning the new era of “flight shaming” because it includes both commercial aircraft usage and military aircraft usage. More specifically, this kerosene-based product is used for commercial and military turbo jet and turbo prop aircraft engines.
The EIA now projects that global demand for jet fuel will expand significantly over the next 40 years as demand rises for freight air transport and passenger air travel.
According to Statista, global fuel consumption by commercial airlines is set to reach a record of 97 billion gallons for 2019.
Air freight transport is set to grow at an annual rate of 2.6 percent, while passenger air travel is set to triple by 2050. Asian demand will be the biggest surge.
The massive use of jet fuel and growing demand has pushed the US Navy, for one, to experiment with seawater bacteria as a potential biofuel replacement.
The aviation industry is under a tremendous amount of pressure now to come up with an answer to flight shaming, and to work to reduce carbon emissions.
Only two airlines in the world have officially committed to a goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The first was British Airways, which plans to invest in sustainable fueland replace older aircraft with more efficient jets over the coming five years. The second was Qantas, which plans to invest $50 million over 10 years to help develop sustainable fuels.
Airlines might be #4 in the fossil fuels use category, but they are not as high up on the CO2 emissions offenders as you might think, despite being named and shamed. According to the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), the global aviation industry is responsible for 2 percent of all human-induced CO2 emissions, and in the transport sector, it claims 12 percent of all transportation-caused emissions, with road travel accounting for 74 percent.
#3 Hydrocarbon Gas Liquids, 3.01M bpd
This group of petroleum, called HGLs, encompasses propane, ethane, butane. These products are produced in nat gas processing plants as well as in oil refineries. This category includes all natural gas liquids but does not include liquid natural gas.
Of these, propane is the most commonly used HGL in the United States, where it is used both residentially and commercially for heat. But HGLs are widely used in the industrial sector too, in plastics, paints, and resins.
As far as CO2 emissions go, HGL isn’t really far up there, mostly because a significant share are not combusted, and noncombusted HGLs don’t really create a lot of C02.
Barely a blip on the C02 radar.
#2 Diesel and heating oil
Taking second spot on the US petroleum consumption list is distillate fuel oil, which includes both diesel and heating oil. Diesel fuel is used in diesel engines, which are found in construction equipment, trucks, buses, tractors, boats, trains, even some cars–although this is rarer in the US. Some generators also take diesel fuel.
Heating oil, also called fuel oil, is used in boilers and furnaces for heat, and is sometimes used to produce electricity in power plants.
Total distillate fuel oil consumption in 2018 averaged about 4.15 million b/d, or 20% of total U.S. petroleum consumption.
Distillate fuel consumption in the U.S. transportation sector alone resulted in 461 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2018, according to the EIA. This is 24% of all C02 emissions in U.S. transportation sector and nearly 9% of total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions.
#1 Road-Tripping Gasoline
Gasoline is the most heavily used petroleum product in the United States today, and if you want a petroleum product to take aim at, gasoline is your man.
Last year, US consumers chewed through 9.33 million barrels per day of the stuff, and accounts for almost half of all petroleum consumed in the United States.
Combined with #2 above, distillates, the two represent 81% of all CO2 emissions in the United States, according to the EIA.
So who is using all this gasoline? By state, that would be Texas and California, who combined, consume 23% of all the gasoline in the country. Runners up are Florida, New York, and Georgia.
So while the US uses petroleum products to whisk all over the country (and the world), to heat buildings, to produce electricity, and to make products such as plastics and hundreds of other end-user goods, the transportation sector is by far the largest share of the petroleum sector.
By Julianne Geiger for Oilprice.com