Yes, Obama's Energy Policies Are Pushing Gas Prices Higher

Twitter wars are about the closest Washington gets to a rap feud. And political nerds like myself were treated to one of the most epic twitter battles in recent memory. It was like 50 Cent versus Kanye West, ya know, if they happened to rap about energy policy and their skill was brevity rather than rhyming.

Didn’t catch it? Congratulations, that likely means you have social interactions outside of Twitter. Here’s some of what you missed:

Like I said, not exactly Biggie v. Tupac, but what did you expect from two policy wonks? Still, a pretty interesting exchange from two high profile staffers. And it’s an interesting argument. Based purely on the numbers Obama seems to have the upper hand. It’s true that oil and gas production has risen each of the three years the president has been in office. Moreover, oil production is indeed higher now than it has been in eight years.

The President has been able to roll these statistics into a pretty powerful election-year talking point. “Under my administration, domestic oil and natural gas production is up, while imports of foreign oil are down,” Obama has often said on the campaign trail.

The question is whether Obama is deserving of the credit for these changes?

As Brendan Buck pointed out, the answer is most assuredly no.  It’s a little known fact that energy production is largely dictated by a five-year lease plan, the last of which was passed by the Bush Administration and spanned 2007-2012. That plan provides a system for offshore oil and natural gas exploration, leasing and development in federally owned areas. Essentially, the plan dictates what areas the government is willing to lease to private companies who will then pay for the right to search for oil and extract it.

Since the plan covers five years, any increase in oil and gas production isn’t attributable to any plan of Obama’s, but to the prior administration. Indeed, Obama has done everything he can to slow down opening up new areas for exploration. The latest draft of his five-year plan actually closes off a vast majority of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) for energy exploration and prohibits any lease sales in new areas.

In fact, if Obama had gotten his wish to cancel or suspend a number of pre-planned lease sales, it would have been the first year since 1958 (over 50 years ago!) that there would not have been any lease sales in the OCS.

Obama’s ability to take credit for the increased production is also undermined by the fact that most of the increase is taking place on privately owned lands. According to the Institute for Energy Research (IER) oil production on federal lands (the ones Obama could conceivably take credit for) fell by 44 percent and natural gas production fell by 41 percent. By contrast, they rose by 11 percent and 40 percent respectively on privately owned property.

That is largely the result of Obama Administration policies that have closed taxpayer-owned land from energy extraction. According to data compiled by the House Natural Resources Committee, the total onshore acreage leased under Obama is the lowest it has been in over two decades, stretching back to 1984.

Alright, enough with the numbers and factoids. The bottom line is this: the growth in domestic energy production has occurred in spite of, not because of, Obama policies. When push comes to shove Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy really means “green energy above all.” And while green technologies like solar and wind must be a part of any comprehensive plan to ensure affordable energy, the United States must continue to safely utilize the abundant natural resources it has.

So in this Twitter battle chalk one up for Brendan Buck. Facts are stubborn things and the White House Press Secretary didn’t have them on his side this time.