Coming Up Empty

Obama deserves little credit for expanded energy production

April 12, 2012

The Obama administration is taking an undeserved victory lap for increased U.S. production of oil, Republicans and proponents of expanded oil production say.

The administration’s latest attempt to claim it is expanding oil production came from the Department of Interior. The agency recently announced a new program to streamline and automate permit applications for oil and gas drilling.

The project is an expansion of a pilot program and is expected to reduce average approval time for drilling permits from 298 to 60 days.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said that, "By upgrading and improving our oil and gas drilling permit processing systems and technologies we believe we can improve efficiencies while ensuring thorough reviews for safety and compliance."

But the pilot project was originally created by a provision in a 2005 Republican-sponsored energy bill. Not only that, but the administration has spent the last four years trying to repeal portions of it.

In its 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 budgets, the Obama administration requested the pilot program, which was funded with money from sales of oil leases, be zero-funded. Instead, the administration requested increased permit fees on oil well operators.

"It's like they killed somebody and are now taking credit for resurrecting them," said Dan Kish, the senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research, an organization that promotes expanded oil and gas production.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, while applauding the program, noted the Interior Department was "taking credit for a program they have consistently tried to shut down, similar to taking credit for increased oil production that resulted not from its own policies, but, rather, from those implemented by previous administrations."

However, an Interior official said the comparison was "apples and oranges." The old program had little to do with automating the permit process, the official told the Free Beacon.

"In short, we believe that companies, not the taxpayers, should be able to help foot the bill for processing [Applications for Permit to Drill]," an Interior official said. "It appears that some on the other side want to continue to give oil companies a break when it comes to who pays for processing their permits."

This isn’t the only energy project the president has attempted to take credit for in recent months.

"Under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years," the president told an audience in late March during a four-state tour to promote his self-described "all of the above" energy policy.

Republicans, however, have hammered the administration for blocking the Keystone XL pipeline and dragging its feet on approving new leases for drilling.

"Over the past three years, President Obama has delayed, blocked, and restricted access to America’s energy resources, leading to a seven percent drop in federal energy production and no real options to address the energy crisis we face today," House Speaker John Boehner wrote in a recent column.

President Obama has been emboldened by liberal journalists and commentators who have defended the administration’s energy record. Talking Points Memo published a chart claiming to show how the oil and gas extraction industry had flourished under Obama’s presidency.

"Oil and gas extraction is a relatively small industry, but it has prospered in the weak economy, even as other industries climb slowly out of the great recession," TPM’s Brian Beutler wrote. "Energy experts say that the oil boom itself is also due to factors outside of Obama’s control, but this gives the lie to the notion that Obama’s been actively squelching it."

What TPM’s chart shows, however, is that the industry was climbing during the recession, which began in 2007, only to decline after Obama took office.

Oil extraction took a big hit in 2010 after the Deep Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, costing the industry jobs.

The Commerce Department estimates that the U.S. lost 8,000 to 12,000 jobs as a result of the six-month deep-water drilling moratorium imposed by the administration in the wake of the spill; a Louisiana State University study estimates more than 19,500 jobs were lost.

And even though the moratorium has been lifted, the number of drilling permits issued in the Gulf by the administration has yet to return to pre-spill levels.

Fossil fuel production on federal lands has also dropped significantly during the Obama administration.

The proportion of natural gas produced on federal land has fallen from 35 percent in 2003 to just above 20 percent today. The Congressional Research Service released a report revealing 96 percent of the increase in domestic oil production since 2007 has occurred on non-federal lands.