Renewable Accounts: Big numbers for North Dakota transportation

David Ripplinger
Bioproducts and Bioenergy Economist and Assistant Professor, NDSU Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics

As the U.S. enters the summer driving season, it is a great time for North Dakotans to revisit the role our state plays in providing the energy that keeps the country moving.

Many residents know that North Dakota has become a major oil producing state in the last decade and that we are a significant player in biofuels and power generation.

What many North Dakotans miss is the magnitude of the state’s energy and agriculture industries, especially when it comes to vehicle transportation.

North Dakota is now the nation’s number two oil-producing state, with March production averaging just under 1.4 million barrels per day. To put this in perspective, at 20 gallons of gasoline per barrel and the average national fuel economy of 24.9 miles per gallon, that’s 700 million passenger car and light truck vehicle-miles that can be traveled daily on North Dakota crude. Put another way, North Dakota produces enough oil every 82 seconds for an American motorist to drive 12,000 miles per year for 55 years.

The additional 11 gallons of diesel per barrel allows loaded tractor-trailers, with an average fuel economy of 5.8 miles per gallon, to travel 89 million miles on North Dakota oil daily, with 11 gallons from each barrel left for power generation, clothing, plastics and other uses.

North Dakota agriculture also plays a key role as its corn farmers and in-state ethanol refiners produce 470 million gallons of ethanol annually. At a 10% blend, North Dakota corn-ethanol provides the octane for more than 120 billion vehicle miles each year, at lower cost and with a smaller environmental footprint than petroleum based additives.

North Dakota’s ethanol industry provides an in-state home for 160 million bushels of corn while producing 1.4 million tons of distillers grains, a co-product used for livestock feed, much of which is used to feed North Dakota cattle.

Finally, while only a few hundred electric vehicles are registered in the state today, North Dakota has significant coal, natural gas, wind, hydro, and soon, solar-power-generating assets that are ready to meet the growing demands of electrified transportation within the state’s borders and beyond.

These are big numbers, ones most outside the oil, corn, ethanol and power industries don’t have a handle on. In the past 15 years, North Dakota has established itself as a global energy powerhouse, providing affordable and secure domestic power, increasing rural social and economic vitality in the state, and on many avenues moving us closer to environmentally-sustainable transportation.