"As soon as I came into office," President Obama boasted on Thursday in a speech at Northwestern University, "we upped our investments in American energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and strengthen our own energy security. And today, the number-one oil and gas producer in the world is no longer Russia or Saudi Arabia. It’s America."
This is apparently true. Over the course of Obama's time in office, the domestic production of oil has exploded. Between 1980 and 2010, oil production dropped by 1.5 percent a year, on average (from July to July). Between 2010 and 2014, it's shot up an average of 12.8 percent. Between July 2011 and July 2012, production went up 19.6 percent -- the biggest one-year gain since 1937.
Which puts Obama in the weird position of having to champion oil exploration -- and the economic boom its created, particularly in the northern Plains states -- while at the same time talking up his plans to fight climate change. Last year, the White House somewhat awkwardly tried to pair the two in a tweet.
He made a similar transition at Northwestern. "So that's in the traditional fossil fuel area," he said, adding a few sentences outlining a number of ways in which the administration has bolstered clean energy. "That’s the kind of progress that we can be proud of and in part accounts for the progress we have also made in reducing carbon emissions that cause climate change."
When Obama first ran in 2008, increased energy production was perhaps the last thing on his mind -- his arguments about upping investments in energy notwithstanding. In 2008, his campaign website offered exactly one solution for reducing dependence on foreign oil: using less oil overall.
By 2012, well into a boom fostered almost entirely by improved drilling techniques, Obama was ready to claim some credit.
Mitt Romney, meanwhile, featured "energy" as a key issue area on his website. And on the page discussing his energy plans, his first argument was that Obama wasn't doing enough.
That stands in stark contrast with John McCain's website from four years prior. McCain eventually adopted the informal mantra "drill, baby, drill," but that was largely popularized once McCain selected his running mate. In September of 2008, his website still focused much more heavily on the environment.
McCain did propose one way in which America could gain energy independence: "through the development of bio diesel and cellulosic energy."
It isn't only the domestic oil boom that shifted how politicians talk about oil production. The perception that Barack Obama is hostile to fossil fuels turned arguments about oil drilling and coal mining into close-to-cultural issues in 2012. And the focus on addressing climate change that led to such famous scenes as Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Republican Newt Gingrich sitting on that couch to call for action had dissipated quickly in the years that followed.
But the change in tenor from a termed-out president is almost certainly because oil exploration is one of the few things that has categorically, unequivocally gone well since he became president.