Can Obama boast about energy?

October 3, 2012

When the two candidates spar over energy, it underscores the clear fault lines between their policies. 

President Obama boasted during the debate Wednesday, “Oil and gas production are at their highest levels in years.”

Oil and gas production have increased in the U.S. in recent years, because of global demand and the high price of oil, and in part due to the expansion in both shale gas and oil exploration in states such as North Dakota, Texas and Pennsylvania.

GOP candidate Mitt Romney agreed that “President Obama is right” that energy exploration is on the upswing. “But not due to his policies," he said. "In spite of his policies.”

It’s true that oil and gas production is up more on private and state land than on federal land--oil and gas production on federal lands are down 40 percent compared to a decade ago, according to the House Natural Resources Committee. But is that a problem?

There has been enough natural gas produced in the United States to drive prices down so low that many companies have stopped exploring for more. Drilling rig counts have dropped sharply as a result. 

The Obama administration has imposed more restrictions on oil and gas development both onshore and offshore compared to the Bush administration. Interior Department officials have said they changed permitting process in the West to reduce the number of legal challenges after leases are sold.

In January, Interior deputy secretary David Hayes said that oil and gas lease sales on public lands grew 20 percent in 2011 compared to 2010. 

Part of the decline in leases stemmed from the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which prompted Interior to impose a moratorium on offshore drilling in the Gulf.

But the administration has not shut down offshore drilling altogether — it has restarted drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and green-lighted offshore drilling activities in the Arctic this summer.

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