Twentieth-century American military history has two iconic dates - 7 December 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor and 6 June 1944, D-Day, when the liberation of Europe began.
The subsequent vicious Allied fight from Normandy to Germany saw the Nazis largely fueled by a technology that is now being promoted by the Republican Congressional leadership, in collusion with its munificent fiscal campaign energy supporters, as a way to lessen U.S. dependence on energy imports.
At issue is the Fishcher-Tropsch coal liquefaction process, developed by energy-poor Germany in the 1920s and expanded by the Nazi regime. Bent on dominating Europe, Hitler’s war machine suffered from increasing fuel shortages, first in September 1939 when Britain’s Royal Navy clamped a naval blockade on the Baltic, exacerbated in June1941 when the invasion of the USSR ended Soviet energy imports, leaving Germany largely dependent on Romania’s Ploesti oilfields after the failure of Army Group south to capture the Caucasus and Azerbaijan’s rich Caspian resources. FT production became increasingly critical to fueling Hitler’s war machine from then onwards, given Germany’s immense coal reserves.
By 1944, Germany was producing 124,000 barrels of synthetic fuels daily at 25 FT plants. FT was subsequently commercialized by South Africa’s apartheid regime, beginning in the 1950s through South Africa's state energy company Suid Afrikaanse Steenkool en Olie (SASOL), founded in 1950, now a private company and the world’s leading proponent of FT. In the early 1980s, as UN sanctions against South Africa began to take effect, two large coal to liquid (CTL) SASOL production facilities were commissioned and now form the single largest and most profitable asset in SASOL's global portfolio.
If the ideological footprint of Fischer-Tropsch is vile, then its environmental impact is even worse. Quite aside from the ideological concerns, fuel derived from the FT process has a carbon footprint 118 percent greater than that of conventional gasoline.
Nevertheless, on 12 May the House Armed Services Committee voted to eliminate a ban on the military purchasing high carbon non-conventional fuels. In considering the annual National Defense Authorization Act, House Resolution 1540, the committee voted to exempt the Department of Defense from Section 526 of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, which prohibits federal agencies from procuring fuels with higher life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels, including liquid coal and tar sands oil.
The Pentagon is pushing back against being mandated to use these dirty fuels, backed by the coal industry and its Congressional supporters. On 3 June, Tom Hicks, the Navy’s deputy assistant secretary for energy, testified before a House Energy and Commerce Committee panel against Fischer-Tropsch fuels, stating, “In addition to requiring large new sources of coal, it requires enormous quantities of water, $5 to $10 billion in capital per plant to provide a fuel result that is more than twice as carbon-intensive as petroleum,” promoting instead new generation biofuels made from sources like camelina crops, corn stover and algae.
The House of Representatives Energy and Power subcommittee is reviewing a sweeping energy bill sponsored by Republican California Representative Devin Nunes. The bill, which has more than 70 co-sponsors, envisages opening vast offshore areas to oil-and-gas drilling, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as well as mandate scores of new nuclear reactors over the next three decades.
If Congressional Republicans have their way, then the U.S. military will soon be fueled by an environmentally filthy technique that allowed the Nazi war machine to kill tens of thousands of allied troops and Pretoria to number thousands of black South Africans, all the while producing massive amounts of greenhouse gases, all in the name of corporate profits and U.S. energy “national security,” not to mention a revival of nuclear power in the U.S., an alarming prospect in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima catastrophe.
FT’s environmental impact is as squalid as its historical legacy, and in this case, the Pentagon’s commitment to agricultural biofuel renewable puts it on the side of the angels. So the question remains – will Congress, dominated by Republicans backed by “Big Coal” fiscal concerns, be able to coerce the Pentagon to accept this technology?
Watch this space.
By. John C.K. Daly of OilPrice.com