Fuel vs Fuel: Heading for Divorce Court

The ethanol industry and Big Oil are locked in a battle without much hope of a truce. And, yet, the two industries clearly need each other because they are in a relationship as supplier and customer.
By Mike Bryan | November 19, 2013

I know of no other industry where the supplier and the customer are at total odds and continually bash each other with such extreme vitriol. Ethanol and petroleum are unique in that regard and there appears to be very little opportunity to change the dynamics.

I have certainly done my fair share of bashing in this column as have others in the ethanol industry. As long as I can remember, the oil industry has tried every conceivable method money could buy to destroy the ethanol industry. So our customer hates us and as a supplier, we have a distain for our customer. A dichotomy indeed!

Both industries supply quality products that the general public needs. Both oil and ethanol help to power America, provide a significant boost to our economy and to our energy security. Clearly both play an essential role in helping keep America strong. 

Interestingly, after all of the insults, all of the bickering and all of the money spent trying to destroy and defend, we do provide an essential service to one another. Oil provides our outlet to millions of customers and we provide a clean fuel extender and clean octane to the oil industry, helping it achieve their environmental obligations. Yet we continue to trash one another publicly and privately.

I’m not suggesting that we should ride off into the sunset singing Kumbaya but there must be a better, more productive way for a supplier and a customer to have a working relationship. It’s about market share. Not just the market share for petroleum, but the market share for ethanol as well. We both want a greater share of the market and we both stand in each other’s way of achieving greater market share. As a result we ask Congress to be the arbitrator rather than working together to try and iron out our differences. 

We continue to point fingers, say nasty things, talk trash about each other, spin stories, some true, some marginally true, some totally false, and in the process make little if any progress in achieving oil and ethanol’s end goals of greater market share, customer satisfaction and a cleaner environment.

I don’t know if we can actually call a truce. Both sides would have to give a little and both would have to be willing to stop the trash talk and cheap shots. It may be a bridge too far, a dream that has no possibility of ever becoming reality. But the problem in not trying to achieve it is a continual stalemate, more name calling, more congressional fights and few real winners.

Maybe that’s the way it has to be, but it’s a shame really, because we need each other. Together we could have a great marriage, rather than sitting in front of a congressional judge filing for divorce based on irreconcilable differences.

That’s the way I see it.

Author: Mike Bryan
Chairman, BBI International
mbryan@bbiinternational.com