A retired U.S. Navy vice-admiral urges the continued expansion of the biofuels industry to enhance U.S. national security and help ward off threats from petroleum-exporting countries with opposing political views to the U.S.

“Those who wish to do the U.S. harm can exploit our vulnerability of our single mindedness on fossil fuels as our energy portfolio,” Vice-Admiral Dennis McGinn said during the 2012 Biomass Conference in Washington, D.C. in July.

McGinn’s point is from a report called “Powering America’s Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security” written by McGinn and other retired military three- and four-star admirals and generals who concur on energy, the environment, and national security.

“(The issue is about) expanding the (United States) portfolio of energy beyond petroleum. That is what biofuels are all about,” McGinn told the crowd of 700. “I am not talking just ethanol, just algae-based fuel, or bio-based diesel. I’m talking about all of the above — biofuels.”

(For more, see: Next generation of biofuels enters commercial production)

McGinn currently serves as president of the American Council on Renewable Energy, an organization which promotes the development of renewable energy technology including biofuels.

During his Navy service, McGinn commandeered the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet which covers about 50 million square miles in the eastern and northern Pacific Ocean.

“It is absolutely critical that we recognize that there is a tremendous convergence — first, the need to expand our portfolio of energy to include biofuels,” McGinn said. “It is a national security issue and we need to address the energy, economic, and environmental aspects - local, regional, and global – with an expanded portfolio of energy with an increasing percentage of biofuels.”

McGinn shared several past and current domestic and international threats which could quickly reduce the reliability of U.S. petroleum imports. Iran could shut off oil transportation through the Strait of Hormuz due to current U.S. sanctions against the country.

Oil exports from Libya were temporarily severed during the Libyan revolution which impacted global energy markets. If the cutoff had lasted for weeks or months, the impact could have been staggering for the U.S. economy.

“We would look at the 2008 recession as if it was the good old days,” the vice-admiral said.

McGinn also pointed to the U.S. Gulf Coast and the interruption of oil extraction and gas products after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A “son or daughter” of Katrina with a higher veracity could more directly hit the energy sector in the Gulf creating an even larger disaster.

Costs of global oil

The costs and risks to “pull oil” from the deepest parts of the Gulf of Mexico and other deep water areas are high. McGinn says no guarantee exists that the oil extraction and lifting processes will not cause future environmental spills.

McGinn says these threats and others jeopardize U.S. national security. “If we doubled the production of domestic oil we are still subject to the demands of the global economy,” McGinn said.

He pointed to rapid population growth worldwide, especially in India and China, where larger populations of people demand more energy. The global population now stands at 7 billion people and could top 9 billion by 2050. Global oil demand will increase global competition for existing petroleum supplies.

McGinn also discussed the human and financial costs to maintain the flow of global oil supplies without interruption. He pointed to the men and women in the U.S. military who place their lives in harm’s way to protect oil transportation routes.

“Militarily, we have seen this manifest itself in Iraq and Afghanistan with escorts of convoys, especially fuel convoys, as the single largest cause of killed and wounded young men and women in uniform.”

Thousands of U.S. men and women in uniform deployed around the world operate military equipment worth hundreds of billions of dollars to help ensure the free flow of oil — “the lifeblood of the world economy.”

McGinn addressed criticism that the private sector should develop the biofuel industry without government involvement. An example shared by the vice-admiral is a Department of Defense initiative partnering the USDA and the Department of Energy in tests and the scale up of biofuels.

“There is a key role that government has to play,” McGinn said.

Government should have a role in building industries, the naval leader says. Nine million people in (our) country benefit from the availability of affordable electricity due to the government-created Tennessee Valley Authority.

He also pointed to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Apollo space program (1969-1972) conceived by President Dwight D. Eisenhower which led to economic and social benefits created by spinoff technology.

“Going forward, we need the same type of approach, the right kind of partnership between and the private sector and other groups, to bring us the options for more available, less expensive, and more viable biofuels of every sort,” McGinn concluded.

cblake@farmpress.com