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Drilling for the Truth

Mar 26, 2012

It would appear that the President of the United States is appallingly ignorant about energy and really, really bad at math. Here is a juicy quote from Mr. Obama’s recent campaign speech at the Copper Mountain Solar Project in Boulder City, Nevada. From the official White House transcript:

We have subsidized oil companies for a century. We want to encourage production of oil and gas, and make sure that wherever we've got American resources, we are tapping into them. But they don’t need an additional incentive when gas is $3.75 a gallon, when oil is $1.20 a barrel, $1.25 a barrel. They don’t need additional incentives. They are doing fine.

Did you get that? The President of the United States thinks that a barrel of oil costs a dollar and twenty five cents. He is only off by about $105.

It is possible that the President really said or meant to say that a barrel of oil costs $125. It seems likely, however, that the official transcript is what Obama was reading when he took the stand. So far, no one at the White House has bothered to correct it. If his figures had been accurate, nothing useful could be inferred from them.

For a better case in point, see this passage in the President’s speech:

An energy strategy that focuses only on drilling and not on an energy strategy that will free ourselves from our dependence on foreign oil, that's a losing strategy. That's not a strategy I'm going to pursue. America uses 20 percent of the world's oil, and we've got 2 percent of the world's oil reserves. Think about — I wasn't a math major, but I just want — (laughter) — if you're using 20, you've only got 2, that means you got to bring in the rest from someplace else. Why wouldn't we want to start finding alternatives that make us less reliant, less dependent on what's going on in the Middle East? (Applause.)

Here the logic is unmistakable. The President is arguing that we must be importing 90% of our oil from other nations. Leave alone for a moment the fact that the argument is utterly stupid. Does he really not know what the genuine figure is? Either he is ignorant about a matter of national importance, or he is lying. Here is the real figure from a recent blockbuster piece by Clifford Kraus and Eric Lipton in the New York Times:

In 2011, the country imported just 45 percent of the liquid fuels it used, down from a record high of 60 percent in 2005.

No, the President is no math major. But consider Mr. Obama’s substantive argument: that we need to invest in alternative energy in order to free ourselves from reliance on foreign oil. In fact, we seem to be well on our way to energy independence. Contrary to the President’s argument, the supply is coming from, well, wells.

Not only has the United States reduced oil imports from members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries by more than 20 percent in the last three years, it has become a net exporter of refined petroleum products like gasoline for the first time since the Truman presidency. The natural gas industry, which less than a decade ago feared running out of domestic gas, is suddenly dealing with a glut so vast that import facilities are applying for licenses to export gas to Europe and Asia.

National oil production, which declined steadily to 4.95 million barrels a day in 2008 from 9.6 million in 1970, has risen over the last four years to nearly 5.7 million barrels a day. The Energy Department projects that daily output could reach nearly seven million barrels by 2020. Some experts think it could eventually hit 10 million barrels — which would put the United States in the same league as Saudi Arabia.

In fact, a policy that focuses solely on drilling (if you mean by that, as the President seems to mean, fossil fuel extraction) is in fact “an energy strategy that will free ourselves [is freeing us] from our dependence on foreign oil.” By contrast, the President’s alternative energy strategy is contributing nothing toward that end. It is unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future and cannot possibly do so in the near term.

President Obama suddenly wants to take credit for a boom in oil production. As the NYTs piece makes clear, “this turnabout is a story of industry-friendly policies started by President Bush and largely continued by President Obama,” policies that Obama opposed as a candidate and that are contrary to the policies he favored when first elected. That’s the buried lead in the NYT piece: Dumb Cowboy from Texas Secures U.S. Energy Independence.

You can decide for yourself which set of policies he should have pursued. What is certain is that he is feeding adoring audiences with a diet of falsehoods leavened with stupid arguments. It is scarcely impossible that the President is as ignorant about energy policy as he seems above. I will be more charitable. He just doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the truth of anything that he is saying. 

Dr. Ken Blanchard is a professor of Political Science at Northern State University and writes for the Aberdeen American News and the blog South Dakota Politics.


10:11 am - Mon, March 26 2012
Bernie said:
How much can a president really do about oil prices and gas prices? I doubt very much, it's a global situation.
12:20 pm - Mon, March 26 2012
John Andrews said:
It seems pretty obvious the President of the United States knows a barrel of oil doesn't cost $1.25. Watch his speech on YouTube. He refers to a barrel of oil as being "one twenty, one twenty-five a barrel." I'm guessing the document you link to is a transcription made after the event, not a pre-written script, and that's where the error lies.

Gas prices are clearly a global issue. If a president could control them as easily as some believe, I doubt he'd let them surpass $4 a gallon in an election year.
07:24 am - Tue, March 27 2012
rebecca said:
Good catch, John.
02:39 pm - Fri, March 30 2012
dave tunge said:
Excellent article Ken. However, you could have saved all of us the time to read it by eliminating all but the last sentence.

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