HOBBS, N.M. — Mitt Romney morphed into a traveling salesman here Thursday as he gave his best pitch for an energy plan that’s big on loosening environmental regulations and expanding domestic oil drilling and coal production.
To those who might doubt Romney’s projection that his plan would make North America energy independent by 2020, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee had a simple message: “It is achievable.”
“This is not some pie-in-the-sky kind of thing,” Romney told a modest crowd outside a truck warehouse in New Mexico. “This is a real, achievable objective, and I have a chart that’s still, despite the wind, still holding up up here.”
While Romney stressed the idea of independence, the plan relies heavily on imports from Canada and Mexico, two of the world’s biggest oil producers. Hence the use of the phrase “North American” before energy independence.
With storm clouds rolling in, Romney turned to a bar graph propped perilously next to him on a makeshift easel to make the sale. But first, this: “These guys have held it up with about every piece of weight you can think of,” Romney said. “You can’t read the writing, it’s too far back, but I can read it even from here so I’m going to tell you what it says.”
The United States produces about two-thirds of the oil needed to meet its own demands, he said. He pointed to a gray bar showing “conventional sources,” meaning current domestic wells, then detailed where oil production would expand under his plan.
Romney, gesturing at his chart, said his plan would result in 2 million additional barrels per day in offshore drilling, and 2 million additional barrels in “tight oil — that’s oil that comes from places where you have to use fracking technology to get it out.” He cited the Bakken range in North Dakota and sources in New Mexico. In both areas, oil companies are using a combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling to tap previously uneconomic resources.
Looking to U.S. neighbors, Romney said, “Canada has oil sands, we’re going to take advantage of those and build the Keystone Pipeline,” adding, “that last little bar that I have there is Mexico.
“Mexico, I’m not counting on any increase there,” he said. “They’ve actually been declining slightly.” But he added that he would work with the country’s new political leadership to develop technologies in Mexico to boost production.
“The net-net of all this, as you can see, is by 2020, we’re able to produce somewhere between 23 million and 28 million barrels per day of oil, and we won’t need to buy any oil from the Middle East or Venezuela or anywhere else where we don’t want to,” Romney said. That figure would include output from Canada and Mexico, according to Energy Information Administration figures.
To reach those totals, Romney also cited output of biofuels — ethanol or diesel, for instance — which would produce about 1 million barrels a day in additional capacity. While Romney has criticized subsidies and tax breaks for renewable energy sources, his white paper said he would preserve the government-mandated renewable fuels standard, which requires oil refiners to blend minimum amounts of biofuels into gasoline. That mandate has helped prop up demand for biofuels in recent years.
His plan would also open new areas for offshore drilling, starting off the coasts of Virginia and the Carolinas, and empower the states to lease federal lands for oil, coal and natural gas development.
Under the plan, the federal government would remove or loosen environmental statutes and regulations that Romney says have undermined coal production and slowed the expansion of oil and gas drilling.
Romney said the plan would have an economic impact of $500 billion and result in 3 million new jobs, including more than 1 million in the manufacturing sector. “That’s more good wages; that’s an opportunity for more Americans to have a bright and prosperous future,” Romney said.
The Obama campaign said Romney’s plan amounted to a “backward, drilling-focused energy policy” that prioritizes tax breaks for big oil and gas companies. Oil executives have been major contributors to Romney’s campaign.
“This isn’t a recipe for energy independence,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement. “It’s just another irresponsible scheme to help line the pockets of big oil while allowing the U.S. to fall behind and cede the clean energy sector to China.”
In a conference call with reporters, the Obama campaign criticized Romney’s energy proposal, casting it as an attempt to cater the oil industry.
“One thing is clear that we should take away from today. Mitt Romney’s energy plan is simply doing the bidding of big oil,” said Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter.
“I find Mr. Romney’s plan to be not only unimaginative, but I believe it will be a failure in trying to get us to energy independence,” added Federico Pena, a former Energy and Transportation secretary and current Obama campaign co-chair.
The Obama administration has prioritized homegrown renewable energies such as wind and solar, funneling federal dollars toward subsidies and loan guarantees for renewable energy projects and technology development. But the president has also endorsed the expansion of natural gas exploration and pledged to open up new — but still limited — offshore areas for oil drilling.
Romney pledged to change course dramatically.
“Sometimes I have the impression that the whole regulatory attitude of the administration is trying to stop oil and gas and coal — that they don’t want those sources, that instead they want to get those things so expensive and so rare that wind and solar become highly cost-effective and efficient,” Romney said.
“Look,” he continued, “I like wind and solar like the next person. But I don’t want the law to be used to stop the production of oil and gas and coal.”