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President Obama’s Domestic Energy State Of Delusion

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Larry Bell, Contributor

President Barack Obama’s administration has claimed a number of remarkable accomplishments that will reduce dependence upon foreign oil and secure future energy security. Statements leading up to and during his January 24 State of the Union address take credit for highest levels of natural gas production in more than 30 years, record oil production in eight years, reduction of oil imports by an average of 1.1 million barrels per day, and making the U.S. a net energy exporter.

To hear him tell it, these achievements, to the extent they really exist, are appropriately attributable to his foresight and actions, rather to than to an entrepreneurial energy industry. Speaking at a January 17 meeting of his Jobs and Competitive Council he complained about lack of recognition of this fact, stating, “Folks are acting as if that [natural gas boon] just sprung out of thin air and is one more example of the dynamism of the marketplace.” Yup, under his leadership, government did it.

Furthermore, his masterworks have but only begun. Next he will open up 75% of our potential offshore oil and gas resources for development, and approve enough renewable energy projects on federal land to power three million homes.

Of course there is obviously a small catch. He will need a little more time, another four years beyond this one, to really solve everything. But before we cast those 2012 ballots to allow that to happen, let’s review the veracity of his many claims thanks to lots of fact checking help from the Institute for Energy Research (EIR) and Politifact.com.

First, he’s right about natural gas production being at record high levels and oil up very slightly, but he apparently forgot to mention that is occurring on private and state-owned lands, not on federal lands that presidents have control over.In fact the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has reported that both natural gas and oil production have declined on federal lands since the beginning of the Obama administration.

As for domestic oil, it is also true that production has reached slightly highest levels since 2003, but yields on federal lands have fallen 43% over the past 9 years, and have done so most rapidly under Obama’s watch. While total levels have been quite stable, EIA’s estimated production for 2012 is only about 13% higher than for the lowest year over an eight-year period (about 2,055,646,000 barrels, compared with 2,073,453,000 barrels in 2003). In January 2009 when President Obama was inaugurated, the U.S. produced 5,154,000 barrels of oil per day. By November 2011 (the last month for data), the U.S. was producing 5,874,000 barrels per day.This 700,000 increase occurred once again on private and state lands. Not only is the Obama administration making it more difficult to produce energy on federal lands, his minions are also leasing out less lands than in the past. Due to actions that limit offshore areas where oil can be produced and cancel other leases, production on federal lands will most likely continue to fall.  Yet fortunately, the most recent EIA “Short-Term Energy Outlook” published in January forecasts increases in total crude oil production in 2012 and 2013 thanks to increases in onshore production in the lower 48, which overshadows decreases in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.

Has the president, as he bragged, caused the amount of oil we are importing to be reduced? Very likely, the answer is a clear “yes”. More than half of this reduction is because of the ongoing recession along with much higher fuel prices which have caused consumers to drive less. But has the U.S., as Obama stated, become a net energy exporter? He didn’t provide any information source to back up that claim, and it contradicts EIA data that shows this to be far off the reality mark. In 2010 the U.S. imported 21 quadrillion of the 98 quadrillion Btus of energy used.

And what about that bold new proposal to make more than 75% of undiscovered oil and gas resources off our shores available for development, while putting in place common-sense safety requirements to prevent a disaster like the BP oil spill from happening again? For historical perspective, let’s remember that when Obama was elected, nearly 100% of the offshore areas were available for exploration and development. Since then his administration has imposed severe limitations. One case in point is that despite bi-partisan support from the Virginia delegation, including Democratic senators, exploration off Virginia’s coast has been prohibited.

Do you happen to remember when the Obama administration imposed a nearly year-long deep water drilling moratorium following the BP oil spill that blocked U.S. access to an estimated 7.5 billion barrels of oil and nearly 60 trillion cubic feet of natural gas? And when that very same administration also invested more than $2 billion in trade credits with Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petrobras to finance offshore exploration in their Tupi oil field in the Santos Basin near Rio de Janeiro? (Investor’s Business Daily has recently reported that an Ex-Im bank source informed them that the amount could go way higher, “in the neighborhood of $20 billion”.) Do you happen to recall that March 19, 2010 White House press conference when the president pledged that America would become one of their best customers?

Well, it seems they got a better offer. Ten months later Brazil snubbed Obama’s generosity with our money and opted to sell its oil to another country. China bought up a 40% stake in Repsol-YPF’s Brazil unit which has dibs on drilling in the offshore Santos Basin where the biggest deepwater discoveries are occurring, along with a 30% stake in Galp Energia, a Portuguese company that has also acquired rights there. Meanwhile, some of those embargoed out-of-business deep water rigs we had planned to use sailed off into the sunset to Brazil.

Having been jilted by Brazil, one might imagine that the president might be more appreciative of our neighbor to the north. Yet shortly before his State of the Union address he single-handedly rejected issuing a Keystone XL pipeline permit that does great injury to Canada as well as to American energy consumers, businesses and job opportunities. A scant one month earlier his administration imposed onerous regulations on the American economy through EPA standards that will have little or no measurable effect on health from targeted emissions.

While extolling virtues of natural gas and cheering his administration’s accomplishments, the president continues to call for higher taxes and restrictions on those industries we depend upon to produce it.  Included are proposed windfall profit taxes, use-it or lose-it land fees, and agency foot-dragging on leases awaiting federal permits.  At the same time, he stumps unrelentingly for taxpayer handouts and other special benefits for Solyndra-style green energy companies that can’t compete in free markets, and most likely, never will.

This is a president who promoted alarmism about a scarcity of American oil resources, mistakenly declaring in June 2010 that “We consume more than 20% of the world’s oil, but have less than 2% of the world’s oil reserves.” In reality, the Institute for Energy Research founded by fellow Forbes contributor Robert Bradley has reported, based upon government data, that North America land areas contain twice the combined proven reserves of all OPEC nations, and enough natural gas to provide for America’s electricity needs at current usage rates for the more than 500 years.

A continuation of current White House agendas will only ensure that the administration’s energy scarcity narrative is realized. Moreover, as IER President Thomas Pile observes , “If the state of the union is actually stronger, it comes despite the policies of President Obama and not because of them.”

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Obama loves oil — Not!

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Peter Foster Jan 27, 2012 – 8:00 AM ET

Nothing more clearly indicates U.S. President Barack Obama’s economic muddledom and ideological stubbornness than the dog’s breakfast of energy policies revealed in Tuesday’s State of the Union address. The good news is that hydrocarbons are back (as long as you forget Keystone XL). The bad news is that “clean” energy isn’t going away. Instead it’s “all of the above.”

Without his nose growing visibly, the President claimed the government was behind the technological advances that led to the current shale gas boom, and even suggested that he might take credit for the rise in domestic oil production. In fact, Mr. Obama’s administration has hampered and castigated oil companies at every turn. In the light of the hysterical grandstanding over the BP Gulf spill (whose impact proved to be greatly exaggerated), it was ironic indeed to hear the President now declare a great opening up of offshore exploration.

The industry has responded to attacks by becoming more innovative and productive. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, between 2007 and 2010, U.S. oil production grew from 5.1 million barrels a day (mbd) to 5.5 mbd. The agency predicts domestic production will hit 6.7 mbd by 2020, helping take imports down to 36% of domestic usage in 2035 from 60% in 2005. So much for peak oil. Meanwhile, the EIA also predicts that by 2016, thanks to the shale boom, the U.S. will be a natural gas exporter.

This reluctant acknowledgment of the success of private innovation was accompanied on Tuesday by the usual cheap shots. The oil industry has been subsidized (a dubious claim) for too long. Its profits are too fat. The administration will demand that oil companies release details of fracking chemicals – as if they might wilfully poison Americans without public oversight.

These political sideswipes are unlikely to appease the environmental lobby. If the President thinks he won any Greenie Points by kicking the Keystone XL pipeline down the road, he certainly lost them all – and probably then some – with his support for fracking and offshore drilling. Radical environmentalists don’t want to hear about energy security, objective risks, or practical safety measures: they want to close down hydrocarbons as the work of the climate devil.

Over in the dodgy logic section, Mr. Obama suggested that shale gas success demonstrated that it took time for energy research to pay off, thus he was right to stick with promoting alternatives. However, the cases are entirely different. U.S. government research laboratories may indeed have been involved in technologies such as fracking and directional drilling, but these technologies were first developed in the private sector. Government presence should be attributed more to jumping on winners than skill in picking them. Plus, there is the private sector’s incurable penchant for grabbing government funds. When it comes to alternatives, however, while rent seekers are as thick on the ground as subsidized solar panels, the government has no winners on which to jump.

The President suggested government-stoked success in battery technology, but this is predicated on the success of electric cars, of which the President wants – Soviet target-style – to see a million on the road by 2015. Government support for “clean” energy isn’t an investment in the future: It is money down the drain. Naturally, the half-billion-dollar Solyndra debacle received as little reference as Keystone XL.

Critics have suggested TransCanada’s projection of 20,000 jobs in construction and manufacturing from the Keystone XL line, with many more spin-offs, is exaggerated. Strange how interventionists love the Keynesian multiplier when it refers to government expenditure but deplore the idea when it comes to creating real jobs. More important, job creation in subsidized wind and solar is entirely fictitious. One widely quoted Spanish study suggests that every alternative job costs two jobs elsewhere.

Mr. Obama, now presumably to his embarrassment, has referred to oil as a dwindling “19th-century” resource. If we are talking of being out of date, William Watson noted here yesterday that President Obama’s grasp of economics hasn’t yet absorbed the 18th-century wisdom of Adam Smith. Mr. Owe’s predilection for misconceived trade-is-war “mercantilist” policies was clear from his promise in the State of the Union not to “cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here.”

If they put in big destructive subsidies that threaten real trade war, then so will we. Anything they can do, we can do stupider.

One wonders if the President has the slightest clue about the flagging state of the wind and solar industries in Germany, or that what is boosting China’s alternatives industry is government subsidies … from other countries.

The President announced a plan to devote huge swathes of public land to the development of clean energy to power “three million homes.” He also apparently committed the Navy to buying a chunk of this power, as if it weren’t expensive enough to guard the Strait of Hormuz.

Mercantilist alternative energy strategies represent – as Jimmy Carter famously suggested – the “moral equivalent of war.” The problem is that it is war on one’s own economy. At least, with his partial ceasefire against the oil industry, President Obama is now only shooting himself in one policy foot rather than both.

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