Energy & Environment

On Oil and Gas Both Romney and Obama Were Economical with the Truth


How do you know when a politician is lying? His lips are moving.

Last night's townhall debate between Obama and Romney proved the truth of that bitter old joke on many levels. But let's just look at one assertion by Mitt Romney regarding Obama's energy production policies:

And the president's right in terms of the additional oil production, but none of it came on federal land. As a matter of fact, oil production is down 14 percent this year on federal land, and gas production was down 9 percent. Why? Because the president cut in half the number of licenses and permits for drilling on federal lands, and in federal waters.

To which Barack Obama replied:

We've opened up public lands. We're actually drilling more on public lands than in the previous administration and my—the previous president was an oil man.

With regard to permits, below is what I reported when I analyzed the Democratic Party's Platorm looking at its various scitech planks:

What about drilling? President Obama correctly claims to have opened millions of acres to drilling for hydrocarbons. But how does that compare with previous administrations? In its first three years, according to the Bureau of Land Management, the Bush administration leased 8.8 million acres for oil exploration and production, compared to 5.3 million for the Obama administration. The Clinton administration leased 11.4 million acres in its first three years.

What about the total number of new wells drilled on federal lands? The first three years of the Bush administration saw 9,276 new wells drilled, whereas under the Obama administration 9,693 wells were. Just as a comparison, during the global oil price run-up during the last three years of the Bush administration 15,095 new wells started producing. After the BP oil rig blowout, President Obama closed drilling on most of the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts.

What about Romney's claim that oil and gas production is down on federal lands? In Congressional testimony [PDF] in August, Adam Sieminski, the head of the Energy Information Administration stated:

U.S. oil production declined from 5.7 to 5.0 million barrels per day from Fiscal Year (FY) 2003 to FY2006. It remained about flat for the next 2 years, before rising to 5.6 million barrels per day in FY2011.Oil production on non-Federal lands (State and private) decreased from FY2003 through FY2007 by 419,000 bbl/d, remained relatively flat from FY2007 to FY2010, and then increased by 385,000 bbl/d in FY2011 largely because of increases in oil output in North Dakota and Texas. That growth was the result of increased horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the tight oil plays.

Total oil sales of production from Federal and Indian lands, including the Federal OCS [outer continental shelf], increased from 1.6 million bbl/d in FY 2008 to 2.0 million bbl/d in FY 2010, but decreased to 1.8 million bbl/d in FY 2011. The most recent data reflect the impact and aftermath of the 2010 Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico….

Production on non-Federal lands has increased steadily from FY2005 to FY2011 by 16.4 billion cubic feet per day (bcf/d), largely because of shale gas resources (Figure 11). Total natural gas sales of production from Federal and Indian lands have decreased each year since FY2003 primarily as production has declined in the Federal OCS. Based on EIA's latest figures for natural gas production in FY2011, the Federal sales share was 21 percent, down from a high of 35 percent in FY2003 (our earliest available data).

Have the number of drilling permits issued for federal lands declined under Obama? According to data [PDF] from the Bureau of Land Management the answer is that there was been about a 42 percent decline in the number of leases and a 37 percent decline in new permits issued by the Obama administration when compared to the last three years of the Bush administration.

Despite the reduction in permits and leases under Obama, Romney is wrong to claim that production on private lands accounts for all of the recent increases in oil production in the United States.

When all is said and done, it is reasonable to conclude that both politicians were being economical with the truth in this case.