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Tire Inflation Could Not Save More Oil Than Offshore Drilling Could Produce

5:45 PM, Aug 6, 2008 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Barack Obama claims that by inflating our tires, Americans will be able to conserve as much oil as might be produced by offshore drilling. Not likely. How much gas can you save by inflating your tires? Our would be mechanic in chief explains:

"Now two points, one, they know they're lying about what my energy plan is, but the other thing is they're making fun of a step that every expert says would absolutely reduce our oil consumption by 3 to 4 percent. It's like these guys take pride in being ignorant."

This is wrong. We will not reduce our oil consumption by 3 to 4 percent if we inflate our tires. In fact, the question here is one of gasoline consumption, not oil consumption. If your tires are underinflated, the Department of Energy estimates that you might be able to save at most 3 percent of your gasoline consumption, but you might only save 1 percent--3 percent is the maximum.

Of course, not every American needs Obama to tell them to inflate their tires. The government estimates that only 27 percent of all vehicles have an underinflated tire. That means that the country would not save 3 percent of its gasoline consumption, but rather would save one quarter of that number--roughly .8 percent. Currently, Americans use 390 million gallons of gas a day, so .8 percent of that is 3.1 million gallons a day. Run the numbers and the maximum amount of gasoline wasted owing to tire inflation every year is (3.1 million x 365 days) 1.1 billion gallons of gas. In 2005 the Department of Energy put the number slightly higher at 1.2 billion gallons.

Here's where it gets complicated. There are about 20 gallons of gas in each barrel of oil, which means about 60 million barrels a year are wasted, or 164,000 barrels a day. But there is a problem with this number: while there are 20 gallons of gasoline produced by every barrel of oil, there are another 26 gallons of other petroleum products--diesel (9 gallons), jet fuel (4 gallons), and other distillates.

So it's incorrect to say that we are wasting 164,000 barrels. Because all of those other products are unaffected by the how much air you have in your tires, the number of barrels wasted is closer to half that amount: 80,000 barrels a day out of 20.7 million barrels of total consumption. That is, at most, four-tenths of one percent of all the oil we use might be wasted by underinflated tires. It would be great if that oil was not wasted, but for Obama to suggest that savings is equivalent to what might be gained from offshore drilling is . . . ignorant.

In order to put that number in context, compare the 80,000 barrels that might be wasted with the 1.35 million barrels a day that were produced from offshore drilling in 2004. If every single American made sure their tires were perfectly inflated, the amount of oil saved would therefore only be equivalent to roughly 6 percent of what is already produced from offshore drilling. Though there is no current estimate for how large offshore reserves might be, or how much of that oil might be recoverable, based on older estimates production would likely be on the order of 1 million barrels a day. Obama's numbers don't add up, but any thinking American probably came to that conclusion the first time they were told that proper tire inflation is more important to our energy security than drilling.