Amer­ica, the global en­ergy su­per­power Obama took credit for the Amer­i­can oil boom, but is he right?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Steve Ever­ley

hat whole — sud­denly Amer­ica’s like the big­gest oil pro­ducer and the big­gest gas — that was me, peo­ple.”

So said for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama at a re­cent event in Hous­ton. It’s not sur­pris­ing that any pres­i­dent would want to take credit for Amer­ica’s resur­gence as an en­ergy su­per­power: It has un­equiv­o­cally trans­formed our econ­omy for the bet­ter, from re­duc­ing en­ergy prices for con­sumers to en­hanc­ing our na­tional se­cu­rity. It has even helped the United States lead the world in re­duc­ing emis­sions of car­bon diox­ide.

But was Mr. Obama cor­rect? As ESPN’s Lee Corso might say, “Not so fast, my friend.”

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent re­port from the Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice, dur­ing Mr. Obama’s eight years in of­fice (2009-16), U.S. oil and nat­u­ral gas pro­duc­tion did in­deed surge. In 2009, U.S. oil pro­duc­tion was 5.3 mil­lion bar­rels per day. To­tal pro­duc­tion in 2016 av­er­aged 8.8 mil­lion bar­rels per day, a 66 per­cent in­crease. Nat­u­ral gas pro­duc­tion also in­creased from nearly 26 tril­lion cu­bic feet in 2009 to more than 32 tril­lion cu­bic feet in 2016.

But to­tal pro­duc­tion isn’t nec­es­sar­ily the best mea­sure­ment. States have tra­di­tion­ally taken the lead in reg­u­lat­ing oil and gas within their bor­ders, which means pro­duc­tion on state and pri­vate lands is more a prod­uct of state, not fed­eral, reg­u­la­tion.

The pres­i­dent, mean­while, has more control over pro­duc­tion on fed­eral lands, both on­shore and off­shore. In 2009 the United States pro­duced ap­prox­i­mately 282,000 bar­rels of oil per day on fed­eral on­shore acreage, and in 2016 that num­ber had risen to 475,000 bar­rels per day – a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease per­cent­age wise, but small over­all com­pared to to­tal pro­duc­tion of 8.8 mil­lion bar­rels per day in 2016. On­shore nat­u­ral gas pro­duc­tion on fed­eral lands de­clined about 18 per­cent over the same pe­riod, from 4 tril­lion cu­bic feet to 3.3 tril­lion cu­bic feet.

Off­shore, oil pro­duc­tion was slightly lower in 2016 than it was in 2009, and nat­u­ral gas pro­duc­tion de­clined by ap­prox­i­mately 1.2 bil­lion cu­bic feet. Off­shore oil pro­duc­tion took a sub­stan­tial hit for sev­eral years af­ter 2010 – even while pro­duc­tion was in­creas­ing else­where – af­ter Mr. Obama im­posed a costly off­shore drilling mora­to­rium in the wake of the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon in­ci­dent.

Mean­while, on state and pri­vate lands, the shale rev­o­lu­tion has com­pletely trans­formed Amer­ica’s en­ergy fu­ture.

From 2009 through 2016, oil pro­duc­tion on state and pri­vate lands more than dou­bled from 3.4 mil­lion bar­rels per day to 7.1 mil­lion bar­rels per day. Nat­u­ral gas pro­duc­tion in­creased by al­most 9 tril­lion cu­bic feet.

In 2009, pro­duc­tion on fed­eral lands (off­shore and on­shore) ac­counted for ap­prox­i­mately 36 per­cent of all U.S. oil pro­duc­tion, but by the end of 2016, that num­ber had fallen to just 24 per­cent. For U.S. nat­u­ral gas pro­duc­tion, 25 per­cent of it was on fed­eral lands in 2009, but in 2016 it was just 14 per­cent.

The oil and gas pro­duc­tion over which Mr. Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion had the most control was a smaller por­tion of the U.S. to­tal when he left of­fice than when he was in­au­gu­rated.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Mr. Obama im­posed sev­eral con­tro­ver­sial reg­u­la­tions that re­stricted new de­vel­op­ment, in­clud­ing ev­ery­thing from meth­ane rules to tight­en­ing the air qual­ity stan­dard for ozone. He as­serted that more U.S. drilling would not bring down gaso­line prices, a claim that has since been dis­proven. His an­nual bud­getary threat to raise taxes on oil and gas pro­duc­ers may have been po­lit­i­cal blus­ter, but it cer­tainly wasn’t cre­at­ing a more con­ducive en­vi­ron­ment for in­vest­ment.

Yet while the anti-drilling Gasland films were be­ing treated in the press as le­git­i­mate doc­u­men­taries,

Mr. Obama im­posed sev­eral con­tro­ver­sial reg­u­la­tions that re­stricted new de­vel­op­ment, in­clud­ing ev­ery­thing from meth­ane rules to tight­en­ing the air qual­ity stan­dard for ozone.

and “Keep It In the Ground” groups like the Sierra Club were flip-flop­ping on the ben­e­fits of nat­u­ral gas, it would have been easy for Mr. Obama to cater to the en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist fringe and en­dorse their poli­cies. In­stead, he touted shale in one of his State of the Union ad­dresses, ref­er­enced the con­sumer ben­e­fits of low-cost nat­u­ral gas and en­sured that the rad­i­cal “ban frack­ing now” move­ment re­mained a noisy but largely marginal­ized phe­nom­e­non, which is where it re­mains to­day.

For that, Mr. Obama de­serves some credit. His reg­u­la­tory control over state and pri­vate lands may have been lim­ited, but he could have eas­ily given lo­cal of­fi­cials the po­lit­i­cal cover nec­es­sary to adopt ex­treme mea­sures that would have fur­ther re­stricted pro­duc­tion.

Amer­ica’s rise as a global en­ergy su­per­power has largely been a func­tion of in­no­va­tion and in­vest­ment on state and pri­vate lands. The fact that no pres­i­dent — Repub­li­can or Demo­crat — has much control over it is ar­guably why it hap­pened in the first place. Steve Ever­ley is spokesman for Tex­ans for Nat­u­ral Gas.

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