Commentary Magazine


Topic: oil production

Did Oil Production Increase Under Obama?

One of the themes of President Obama’s energy tour this week is that oil production increased under his watch. Speaking in Boulder, Colorado, he claimed:

“We’re going to continue to produce oil and gas at a record pace,” he told one crowd.

The president first paid a visit to the largest solar plant of its kind in the country, in Boulder City, Nev., a city southeast of Las Vegas. The plant is home to nearly a million solar panels.

He blasted Republicans, who he says have favored oil companies over investments in alternative energy.

“The current members of the Flat Earth Society in Congress,” Mr. Obama said, “they would rather see us continue to provide $4 billion in tax subsidies, tax giveaways to the oil companies.”

Domestic oil production may have increased under Obama, but it has absolutely nothing to do with his policies.

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One of the themes of President Obama’s energy tour this week is that oil production increased under his watch. Speaking in Boulder, Colorado, he claimed:

“We’re going to continue to produce oil and gas at a record pace,” he told one crowd.

The president first paid a visit to the largest solar plant of its kind in the country, in Boulder City, Nev., a city southeast of Las Vegas. The plant is home to nearly a million solar panels.

He blasted Republicans, who he says have favored oil companies over investments in alternative energy.

“The current members of the Flat Earth Society in Congress,” Mr. Obama said, “they would rather see us continue to provide $4 billion in tax subsidies, tax giveaways to the oil companies.”

Domestic oil production may have increased under Obama, but it has absolutely nothing to do with his policies.

As the Washington Free Beacon reports today, just 4 percent of the total increase in domestic oil production occurred on federal land:

The study, prepared by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS), examined oil production on federal and non-federal land between 2007-2011. Approximately 96 percent of the total increase in domestic oil production occurred on non-federal land, CRS found.

Earlier this month, the Energy Information Administration reported that oil and natural gas production on federal land declined 40 percent over the past decade and 14 percent in 2011 alone.

So not only did almost all of the production take place on land beyond the Obama administration’s control, but it decreased significantly on land within his control.

It’s unclear whether Obama’s defense of his energy policies will be convincing to voters, or at least persuasive enough to mollify public anger over rising gas prices. But I wonder whether Obama’s doing himself any favors by referring to congressional Republicans in such antagonistic terms. Obviously Obama wasn’t going to be able to run on the post-partisan, civil discourse platform this time around. But he’s taking things to an extreme that seems politically unhelpful.

Acting frustrated by congressional Republicans, which Obama has done in the past, isn’t likely to turn off voters. But calling his political opponents “members of the Flat Earth Society” – has that even been funny since 1992? – just comes off as snarky and self-satisfied. He’s used it enough times in the last few days that it’s clearly intentional. But if Obama’s communication skills are as brilliant as his supporters believe, he should at least be able to explain his disagreement with Republicans without leaning on stale sarcastic insults as a crutch.

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America’s Coming Energy Independence

In this Wall Street Journal oped Ed Morse of Citigroup points out a little appreciated fact: that oil and natural gas production is soaring in the United States—and also in our neighbors Canada and Mexico. Thanks to technological developments such as the exploitation of oil shale, the U.S. has become the fastest growing oil producer in the world and is likely to remain that way for a decade or more. Already we produce almost as much oil as Saudi Arabia; soon we will surpass it.  Already we have become a net petroleum-exporting country for the first time since 1949; in the future we have the potential to export far more, or to lessen even more our already declining dependence on oil imports.

That will make us increasingly energy independent and lessen the strategic importance of OPEC. It is also the latest of many reasons why predictions of American decline are so overwrought.

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In this Wall Street Journal oped Ed Morse of Citigroup points out a little appreciated fact: that oil and natural gas production is soaring in the United States—and also in our neighbors Canada and Mexico. Thanks to technological developments such as the exploitation of oil shale, the U.S. has become the fastest growing oil producer in the world and is likely to remain that way for a decade or more. Already we produce almost as much oil as Saudi Arabia; soon we will surpass it.  Already we have become a net petroleum-exporting country for the first time since 1949; in the future we have the potential to export far more, or to lessen even more our already declining dependence on oil imports.

That will make us increasingly energy independent and lessen the strategic importance of OPEC. It is also the latest of many reasons why predictions of American decline are so overwrought.

The country that is supposedly going to overtake us—China—has scant energy reserves of its own and is heavily reliant on imports brought by water along sea lines which are either now controlled by the U.S. Navy or could be in a time of war. That places China at a major strategic disadvantage in the long-term. When combined with America’s other advantages—especially the fact that our population is not aging nearly as fast as China’s—this suggests that there is no reason American cannot remain No. 1 for a long time to come, provided policymakers in Washington don’t mess it up. Of course, as seen from the Obama administration’s refusal so far to approve the Keystone pipeline that will bring oil from Alberta tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico, official obstructionism remains a potent obstacle to exploiting America’s natural strengths.

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Iraq: Good News, Bad News

The deadlock over Iraq’s election law, which is making an election by the end of January increasingly unlikely, is bad news. It raises the prospect of political gridlock, a government holding power past the period prescribed by the constitution, and ultimately a deterioration of security conditions. But there are also positive signs emanating from Iraq. Civilian casualties continue to fall, now down to the lowest levels since the U.S. invasion of 2003. Reuters reports: “Eighty-eight civilians were killed this month in violence, Health Ministry data showed, the first time the monthly bodycount has dropped below 100.” That’s especially good news because there was a horrific bombing in Baghdad on October 25. In the past, that might have sparked sectarian violence. This time, it hasn’t happened.

Another bit of good news: Western oil companies are beginning to invest in Iraq. That’s a benefit of improved security, and as long as the situation remains stable, we can expect more investment, more oil production, and a healthier Iraqi economy, which in turn will reinforce the trend toward stability.

A lot can still go wrong, especially with American troops scheduled for reduction from 116,000 today to just 50,000 by August; but notwithstanding the failure to reach agreement so far on an election law, most of the trends in Iraq are moving in the right direction. That’s just as well, because even if the situation were to deteriorate markedly, there is scant chance that President Obama would delay the pullout of American forces.

The deadlock over Iraq’s election law, which is making an election by the end of January increasingly unlikely, is bad news. It raises the prospect of political gridlock, a government holding power past the period prescribed by the constitution, and ultimately a deterioration of security conditions. But there are also positive signs emanating from Iraq. Civilian casualties continue to fall, now down to the lowest levels since the U.S. invasion of 2003. Reuters reports: “Eighty-eight civilians were killed this month in violence, Health Ministry data showed, the first time the monthly bodycount has dropped below 100.” That’s especially good news because there was a horrific bombing in Baghdad on October 25. In the past, that might have sparked sectarian violence. This time, it hasn’t happened.

Another bit of good news: Western oil companies are beginning to invest in Iraq. That’s a benefit of improved security, and as long as the situation remains stable, we can expect more investment, more oil production, and a healthier Iraqi economy, which in turn will reinforce the trend toward stability.

A lot can still go wrong, especially with American troops scheduled for reduction from 116,000 today to just 50,000 by August; but notwithstanding the failure to reach agreement so far on an election law, most of the trends in Iraq are moving in the right direction. That’s just as well, because even if the situation were to deteriorate markedly, there is scant chance that President Obama would delay the pullout of American forces.

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