All presidents take credit for the good things that happen on their watch no matter if they actually deserve it, and they blame their predecessors' follies for the bad things, as well. But President Obama may be the first chief executive to take credit for the results of things he has opposed throughout his time in the Oval Office. The latest example came last week, when the Department of the Interior announced it had approved 21 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for energy resource exploration and development.
"This proposed lease sale reflects President Obama's continued commitment to safely and responsibly develop our domestic energy resources to help create jobs, foster economic opportunities and reduce America's dependence on foreign oil," said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. The next graph in the Interior announcement said that "domestic oil and gas production has grown each year President Obama has been in office, with domestic oil production currently higher than any time in two decades; [and] natural gas production at its highest level ever." These assertions are true, as far as they go, but there is much more to the story.
As petroleum reservoir engineer and RedState.com blogger Steve Maley points out, these claims are actually a textbook example of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy -- after the rooster crows, the sun rises. The reality is that increased domestic oil and natural gas production during the Obama years has occurred despite the chief executive's energy policies, not, as Jewell implies, because of his policies.
At the heart of the increased production is the widespread adoption by drillers of fracking technology that strategically injects a solution of water and chemicals into shale rock strata thousands of feet below the water table. The pressure created by the injection forces open massive deposits of oil and natural gas that would otherwise remain impossible to reach.
The other key fact is the new drilling is being done almost entirely on private lands, thus obviating much of the federal bureaucracy that slows energy production on public lands to a virtual halt. More than 300 days are required for federal bureaucrats to process a permit application to drill on federal lands (it was 154 days in 2005, with the bulk of the increase coming under Obama). In Western energy states, where production is booming due to the Bakken Formation field, only 10 days are required for North Dakota officials to process permit applications and 27 days for Colorado officials, according to the House Natural Resources Committee.
Utah Lt. Gov. Gregory Bell told the committee during an April 9 hearing on permit delays that the difference is not explainable by comparing what state and federal officials look at in reviewing permit applications: "State and federal APD permits require similar regulatory and engineering reviews, so it is hard to understand why a federal permit should take four times as long to be issued."
No wonder Institute for Energy Research President Thomas J. Pyle contends that "Obama has kept keep billions of acres of federal lands and waters behind the most onerous regulatory blockade in American history. Yet that hasn't stopped him for taking credit for the increases in production on private and state lands."
Additional points to consider on these issues include, according to American Energy Alliance:
- Crude oil production on federal lands is 4 percent lower in fiscal year 2012 than in fiscal year 2011, (a smaller percentage than its reduction in fiscal year 2011 compared to fiscal year 2010 levels), with the total percentage reduction over the 2 years at 15 percent.
- Offshore oil production in federal waters is 8 percent lower in fiscal year 2012 compared to fiscal year 2011 with the total percentage reduction over the past 2 years at 23 percent.
- Natural gas production on federal lands is the lowest in the 11 years that data is available and is 7 percent lower in fiscal year 2012 than in fiscal year 2011 with a total percentage reduction over the past 2 years of 15 percent.
- Offshore natural gas production in federal waters is 20 percent lower in fiscal year 2012 compared to fiscal year 2011 levels with a total percentage reduction over the past 2 years of 32 percent.
- Revenues fiscal year 2008 were more than double those received in fiscal years 2011 and 2012, and 2.5 times those received in fiscal years 2009 and 2010. The main reason for the drop in revenues is that fewer federal lands and waters were being offered than in fiscal year 2008 and those that were offered were less attractive than the fiscal 2008 offerings.
- It takes an average of 228 days for the Bureau of Land Management to process a permit to drill in 2012, up from 154 days in 2005, but only 27 days for Colorado, 14 days for Ohio, and 10 days in North Dakota.
- The Interior Department has leased just 2 percent of federal offshore areas and less than 6 percent of federal onshore lands for oil and gas development. While the entire U.S. including Alaska and Hawaii is 2.271 billion acres, the government owns mineral access to 2.4 billion acres because of the Outer Continental Shelf.
- According to a recent report from the Congressional Research Service, from 2007 through 2012, oil production fell 4 percent and natural gas production fell 33 percent on federal lands. The falling production on federal lands is in stark contrast to the dramatically increasing production on private and state lands where oil production increased by 35 percent and natural gas production increased by 40 percent between 2007 and 2012.
- Average number of new leases that BLM issued during each Presidency: Clinton (3764), Bush (2879), Obama (1824). Obama Administration issued less than half the number of new leases as did the Clinton administration on average.
- Average new acres leased under Obama about half that of Bush. Obama (1,758,875), Bush (3,432,719), Clinton (3,412,108)