Pro­duc­tion gains aid shift to in­de­pen­dence

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

Claim­ing a key vic­tory in the fight to es­cape re­liance on for­eign fuel, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced Wed­nes­day that do­mes­tic oil pro­duc­tion sur­passed im­ports for the first time in nearly two decades.

The re­port of­fers proof that the U.S. is mov­ing to­ward en­ergy in­de­pen­dence and also gives an em­bat­tled White House a des­per­ately needed piece of good news amid the failed Oba­macare roll­out, seem­ingly never-end­ing rev­e­la­tions about Amer­i­can spy­ing and other re­cent trou­bles.

For Pres­i­dent Obama per­son­ally, the rise in U.S. oil and gas drilling — cou­pled with re­cent fig­ures show­ing the na­tion’s carbon emis­sions have dropped to a 20-year low — bol­ster his ar­gu­ment that the U.S. can both ad­dress cli­mate change and em­brace an “all-of-the-above” en­ergy strat­egy si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

But an­a­lysts say Mr. Obama, who came into of­fice pledg­ing to con­front global warm­ing and make the en­vi­ron­ment a top pri­or­ity, has ben­e­fited from be­ing in the right place at the right time — and, to some de­gree, stay­ing out of the way.

“Tha fact of the mat­ter is, it’s just ba­si­cally good luck,” said Robert H. Nel­son, a pro­fes­sor of en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy at the Univer­sity of Mary­land and a spe­cial­ist in en­ergy and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism. Mr. Obama “hasn’t made the fed­eral The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced Wed­nes­day that U.S. do­mes­tic oil pro­duc­tion sur­passed im­ports in Oc­to­ber for the first time in nearly two decades. gov­ern­ment a fun­da­men­tal ob­sta­cle [to do­mes­tic oil and nat­u­ral gas pro­duc­tion], which could have hap­pened. He’s tried to fa­cil­i­tate it, but he’s also not wanted to of­fend the more rad­i­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal wing of his party, which is an im­por­tant part of his con­stituency.”

With the rise and per­fec­tion of frack­ing, a rev­o­lu­tion­ary drilling tech­nique that’s trans­formed the Amer­i­can en­ergy land­scape, there’s lit­tle doubt that Mr. Obama walked into an ideal sit­u­a­tion.

Oil and gas pro­duc­tion on fed­eral lands re­mains slug­gish, but drilling on pri­vate lands has sky­rock­eted, lead­ing to an Amer­i­can en­ergy pro­duc­tion re­nais­sance.

The shift also has led di­rectly to the drop in carbon emis­sions as the free mar­ket in­creas­ingly has turned to cheaper nat­u­ral gas than coal, the lat­ter of which pro­duces much greater carbon emis­sions.

Still, the White House wasted lit­tle time in seiz­ing on Wed­nes­day’s good news and tak­ing at least some credit.

“This is a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone, a re­flec­tion of the pres­i­dent’s ‘all-of-the-above’ ap­proach to en­ergy pro­duc­tion as well as his com­mit­ment to re­duc­ing carbon emis­sions,” White House press sec­re­tary Jay Car­ney told re­porters. “It’s rather re­mark­able, if you look at the tra­jec­tory over the last two decades, that we are now im­port­ing less for­eign oil than we are pro­duc­ing here at home.”

In­deed, the U.S. av­er­aged 7.7 mil­lion bar­rels of crude oil pro­duc­tion per day in Oc­to­ber, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from the En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion (EIA).

That’s the high­est num­ber since 1995, and is ex­pected to rise to an av­er­age of about 8.5 mil­lion bar­rels per day in 2014, the agency said.

In 2010, Mr. Obama’s sec­ond year in of­fice, the na­tion av­er­aged 5.4 mil­lion bar­rels per day.

The nat­u­ral gas sec­tor has seen sim­i­lar, dra­matic rises in pro­duc­tion, lead­ing to fore­casts that show the U.S. be­ing vir­tu­ally en­ergy in­de­pen­dent within a decade, as­sum­ing cur­rent trends are al­lowed to con­tinue.

At the same time, carbon emis­sions — seen as the driv­ing force be­hind cli­mate change — have dropped sig­nif­i­cantly over the past few years.

Last year, Amer­i­can carbon emis­sions fell by 3.8 per­cent, hit­ting their low­est level in two decades, the EIA said.

Since 2007, emis­sions have dropped by 12 per­cent.

“I think the ad­min­is­tra­tion and the pres­i­dent have con­trib­uted to that,” said David Gold­ston, gov­ern­ment af­fairs di­rec­tor with the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil, a lead­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion.

He cited the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s au­to­mo­bile fuel stan­dards as a key rea­son for the drop in emis­sions, while also con­ced­ing that “the mar­ket” also has played a role, mov­ing power gen­er­a­tion from coal to nat­u­ral gas.

But de­spite the down­ward trend, carbon emis­sions re­main in the crosshairs of the ad­min­is­tra­tion, as the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency crafts rules crack­ing down on pol­lu­tants from ex­ist­ing coal-fired power plants. Those stan­dards are ex­pected to be re­leased next year.

Stan­dards for new coal fa­cil­i­ties were put forth ear­lier this year.

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