Never read the comments (especially when the topic is ethanol)

E15 pump in Minnesota

The comments sections of newspaper stories about ethanol are full of misinformation and ugliness.

Those who venture into the comments section of a newspaper website rarely emerge unscathed. Newspaper comments sections are a jungle of misinformation, nastiness, name-calling and anonymous people behind a keyboard who know very little and pretend (often angrily) that they know a lot.

All of that is ratcheted up by a factor of 10 when you wade into the comments section of a story about ethanol. There’s a reason we should all live by the following motto: Never read the comments.

The Star Tribune story from from last Tuesday highlighting the first Minnesota fueling station to offer E15 — a blend of gasoline with 15 percent ethanol instead of the usual 10 percent — is the perfect example of why you should never read the comments.

To prove this point, MinnesotaCORNerstone waded into the comments section of the story so you didn’t have to.

Why did we do this? To torture ourselves and ruin our weeks? No (although it felt like torture and it wasn’t a great way to start the week). We did it because even in the hopelessness of a newspaper website comments section, teaching opportunities remain.

Let’s look at a few of the more ridiculous comments on the E15 story and break down exactly why they’re wrong:

  • From a commenter named “krykt”: Let’s get back to growing corn for food not fuel.

The food vs. fuel argument is one ethanol supporters hear all the time. Many people think that by making corn into ethanol, we’re taking food off our plates and increasing prices at the grocery store and in restaurants.

It’s a myth pushed heavily by Big Oil and large food corporations. Big Oil wants to get ethanol off the market because it cuts into its giant profits and weakens their monopoly on the transportation fuels market. Food corporations want cheap corn so they can increase profits by reducing what they spend on inputs.

Fact is, farmers grow more than enough corn to both feed the world population and fuel our vehicles. It’s high oil prices and Wall Street speculators driving up food prices, not ethanol. See this study from the World Bank or this one from Oak Ridge National Laboratory if you don’t want to take our word for it.

Also, the price or corn is drastically down compared to last year. Have you noticed a decrease in your grocery bill? Yeah, we haven’t either..

  • From a commenter named “homeryantsa”: This stuff gunks up your vehicle’s fuel system.

I think it’s time we induct “Ethanol gunks up your vehicle’s engine/fuel system” into the myth and cliche hall of fame. Actually, let’s build a separate wing in the myth and cliche hall of fame solely for this tired old myth and boring cliche.

If ethanol is gunking up engines, why does NASCAR use E15? I haven’t seen any NASCAR drivers in the winner’s circle complaining about how ethanol “gunks up their engines.” If E15 works for NASCAR drivers, it’ll work for the rest of us.

No other fuel has endured as much testing in vehicles made in 2001 or later as E15. There is no evidence that E15 causes any damage in standard vehicles (the Environmental Protection Agency has not approved E15 for use in vehicles made before 2001, mainly because they haven’t tested it yet, not because it’s proven to cause damage).

In fact, ethanol cleans your engine because it’s a lower-cost oxygenate that helps engines run cleaner and with more power.

  • From commenter “whatzit”: ethanol from corn is by every metric you use to measure a utter failure. Environmentally it is a complete fraud, economically it makes no sense and it is simply not sustainable. Only lobbists and farmers benefit, everyone else gets the shaft from this fiasco.

Sounds like poor whatzit is having a bad day and has decided to take his/her frustration out on ethanol. Let’s address Mr. or Ms. “whatzit’s” tirade (misguided) point by (way-out-in-left field) point:

First, ethanol is a major step forward from gasoline when it comes to impact on the environment. Ethanol produces 2.3 units of energy for every unit invested and greatly reduces greenhouse gas emissions when compared to gasoline. Water usage in the ethanol process has declined rapidly in recent years and is expected to keep coming down as technology improves.

Second, ethanol has been great for the economy — both overall and for consumers’ pocket books. Because ethanol costs less than gasoline, it saves Americans about $1.09 per gallon at the pump. E15 is even less expensive with no noticeable decrease in mileage.

According to the Renewable Fuels Association, ethanol is directly responsible for 87,000 U.S. jobs and indirectly responsible for an additional 295,000 jobs. Ethanol also adds $43.4 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product.

Third, ethanol is definitely sustainable. Farmers are growing more corn on less land and using fewer inputs like fertilizers and pesticides than ever before. Unlike oil, corn is a renewable resource that we can grow right here in Minnesota and throughout the United States. No need to import it from countries that don’t really like us, or drill for it in the Alberta Tar Sands (most Minnesota gasoline is made from oil that comes from the Alberta Tar Sands).

Finally, it’s not just “lobbists” (sic) and farmers who benefit from ethanol. We all enjoy the benefits of a fuel that is homegrown, reduces the price of gasoline, creates jobs, builds rural economies and creates a competitive transportation fuels marketplace. The only people “getting the shaft” are folks like Mr. or Mrs. whatzit who refuse to look beyond the myths surrounding ethanol created by Big Oil and other renewable fuels detractors.

  • From commenter “ddwellwo”: As a “car guy” all I can tell you is that if you put this crud in your tank you’re a fool!

Take a look at the below graphic. The “crud” is in gasoline, not ethanol. As a self-proclaimed “car guy,” Mr. ddwellwo should know this. Perhaps if he stepped out from behind the keyboard and toned down the name-calling he’d have more time to brush up on his “car guy” knowledge.

Ethanol vs. gasoline

Also, assuming Mr. ddwellwo is from Minnesota and filling up with regular unleaded gasoline, he’s been filling up with E10 for the last 15 years or so. All Minnesota drivers have, and there hasn’t been a rash of engine breakdowns or other problems because of what Mr. ddwellwo refers to as “crud.”

  • From commenter “lars1074”: The oil and gas industry wouldn’t allow the sale of ethanol if they could stop it. How is that a free market? How are the tar sands of Canada and the fracking for oil by injecting dangerous chemicals into the ground not envoirmental problems? Brazil has been using ethanol at over 20 percent for decades and they drive cars made by the same car manufactures as we do.

Hey, a comment that is well thought out, accurate, devoid of name-calling and yelling, grammatically correct and actually makes sense! Who let this person in here?


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