New Publication Tracks the "Greening of Oil"

Last Updated Jan 22, 2010 12:27 PM EST

Every year, the U.S. uses 100 quadrillion BTUs of energy, and despite inroads by renewables like wind and solar, 83 quadrillion BTUs still comes from fossil fuels. According to Allen Baker, editor of a new publication called Greening of Oil, "If we were able to increase the thermal efficiency of the whole oil parade by just 10 percent, it would have the same environmental effect as doubling the amount of renewable energy we use."

That simple equation--anathema to global warming activists and renewable experts who'd like to see oil (and coal) production simply disappear--is behind the launch of the new online magazine, which comes from the publishers of the weekly Petroleum News. It might be a welcome addition, now that the Wall Street Journal has shut down its useful Environmental Capital blog.

There are undoubtedly useful improvements ahead in internal-combustion engines, and auto engineers say to expect another 20 to 30 percent efficiency gains. Ford's EcoBoost engine (which uses turbocharging to get more power out of a small displacement) is a good example. And the oil industry itself can also clean up the drilling and refining process--to a certain extent, anyway.

The big question, of course, is whether a journal linked to a trade publication that has closely covered the industry can be objective in reporting on oil's checkered environmental record. "Our reporters understand fossil fuels," says publisher Kay Cashman. "Greening of Oil is going to stay away from editorials--we don't write or publish them. We see our job as straight reporting."

Veteran reporter and editor Baker said he "gave up having opinions." He added, "We will cover stuff fairly and cover it thoroughly. In fact, a trade publication may ultimately be more analytical than the mainstream press because in covering the industry we strive to be completely accurate."

Greening for Oil is going for in-depth pieces. A story on the transition to electric vehicles, for example, has some useful statistics about how much climate emissions would be saved by such a move. A 2007 report for the California Energy Commission said that plug-in hybrids would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in that state by 44 percent (and battery cars 68 percent). But California has an exceptionally clean grid, and the numbers would be much different in the coal-heavy Midwest.

The story also quotes a National Research Council report that casts doubt on EV impact on oil consumption. "--[P]lug-in hybrid electric vehicles are not expected to significantly impact oil consumption or carbon emissions before 2030," the NRC analysis says. But that report's conclusions have been hotly contested. For instance, Joseph Romm on his Climate Progress blog charges, "In a staggering lapse of judgment, the National Research Council let its panel of hydrogen advocates publish a deeply flawed report trashing plug-in hybrids late last year--"

But you need to judge the new publication for yourself. There are articles on the "bumpy road" ahead for biofuels, the environmental side of deep shale oil drilling (a very hot topic right now), and EV battery research at Exxon.