Friday, May 13, 2011

Fact checking Obama's oil production assertion

During a Town Hall meeting aired on CBS Early Morning on May 12, Pres. Obama claimed U.S. domestic oil production stands at the highest level since 2003.

“What's also true is the disruptions in the Middle East, particularly in Libya, ended up having some impact. Because people started worrying, ‘Well, even if there's still some supply now, what's gonna happen in the future.’ Those are -- things that we could not completely control. What we can control is number one -- are we producing as much as we can here in the United States? And in fact, we're producing more oil now than any time since 2003.

“So, production is actually up. Even after what happened in the Gulf, we're still saying to oil companies, ‘You can drill, as long as you do it safely. We don't want to go through another oil spill like we had -- last summer. But -- we are gonna give you permits if you show us that you've got a good plan for containing it if something goes wrong.’”

As with most things, it depends on how we look at the numbers.

In the first two months of 2004, the U.S. produced 11,126,000 barrels of oil per day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In the first two months of 2011, America produced 11,095,000 barrels per day, slightly less than the same period in 2004.

If we are going to take the president’s words literally, they are false. U.S. production during the first two months of this year lagged slightly behind 2004 figures.

But in fairness, average production is running slightly higher than at any time since the 2003 daily average of 5.7 million barrels per day - if we look at the bigger picture and assume 2011 will follow the trend of 2010.
U.S. production dropped significantly in 2004 averaging 5.46 million barrels per day. And it dropped even lower throughout the rest of the decade. But domestic production rebounded in 2010 averaging 5.51 million barrels per day.

Here’s where things get interesting. There is a reason Pres. Obama choose 2003 for his cutoff date. The years 2004 through 2009 represented a low-water mark in domestic oil production. Going back to 2000, we find the U.S. produced significantly more oil than it does today. Domestic production averaged 5.82 million barrels per day that year.

This still doesn’t give a clear picture of U.S. oil producing potential. The peak came during the early 70s. In 1970, U.S. production averaged a whopping 9.64 million barrels per day. In November 1970, the U.S. produced the highest average per day ever- 10,044,000.

So, is the U.S. producing all it can? Again, it depends on how you care to interpret the numbers. We are certainly doing better today than we were in the early mid and late 2000s. But U.S. production certainly isn’t setting any records.

In summary, I would call Obama’s statement mostly true, but you should keep in mind that he choose 2003 as his benchmark for a reason and his broader argument loses some of its force when you look at a broader oil production perspective.

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