NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 17, 2007

Heavily subsidized and absurdly inefficient, corn-based ethanol has already driven up food prices.  But the Senate's plan to increase production to 36 billion gallons by 2022, will place even greater pressure on farm-belt aquifers, says the Wall Street Journal.


  • Ethanol plants consume roughly four gallons of water to produce each gallon of fuel, but that's only a fraction of ethanol's total water habit.
  • Cornell University ecology professor David Pimentel says that when you count the water needed to grow the corn, one gallon of ethanol requires a staggering 1,700 gallons of H2O.

Some corn-producing regions are already scrapping over dwindling supply:

  • Kansas is threatening to sue neighboring Nebraska for consuming more than its share of the Republican River.
  • There is local opposition to a proposed ethanol plant in Erskine, Minnesota, with anti-refinery yard signs sprouting up and residents concerned about well water.
  • Backers of a proposed plant in Jamestown, North Dakota, recently withdrew their application when it became clear that the plant's million-gallon-a-day appetite would drain too much from a local aquifer.

Further, ethanol's big environmental footprint is not limited to water, because biofuels like ethanol are highly inefficient, says the Journal:

  • Growing corn to produce ethanol means converting land from food production to fuel production. 
  • Writing in Science magazine, Renton Righelato and Dominick Spracklen estimate that in order to replace just 10 percent of gasoline and diesel consumption, the United States would need to convert a full 43 percent of its cropland to ethanol production.

The alternative approach -- clearing wilderness -- would mean more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere than simply sticking with gasoline, because the CO2-munching trees cut down to make way for ethanol absorb more emissions than ethanol saves.

Source: Editorial, Ethanol's Water Shortage," Wall Street Journal, October 17, 2007.


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