Early in the October 16 town hall debate, audience member Phillip Tricolla asked President Obama whether he agreed with Energy Secretary Steven Chu that his department is not concerned about lowering gasoline prices. This led to a broader discussion of energy policy, ripe with claims and counter claims by the President and Governor Romney.  Let’s consider oil and natural gas.

President Obama boasts that, “We have increased oil production to the highest levels in 16 years. Natural gas production is the highest it’s been in decades.” 

What’s this “we” stuff?

Romney counters, ” … the president’s right in terms of the additional oil production, but none of it came on federal land. As a matter of fact, oil production is down 14 percent this year on federal land, and gas production was down 9 percent. Why? Because the president cut in half the number of licenses and permits for drilling on federal lands, and in federal waters.”

Obama further claimed that the reduction in permits was due to oil companies sitting on unused leases on public lands, such that the leases were not generating revenues for the federal government. He further claimed that Romney was not telling the truth about production of oil and gas on federal land, and added that, “I am all for pipelines. I’m all for oil production.”

But here is a graph showing Bureau of Land Management statistics for oil and gas drilling permits since 2006, and sure enough, permitting is down considerably under President Obama (as Romney had stated). With the drop in permits, future oil and gas production from federal lands is very likely to fall accordingly.

Governor Romney noted that a lot of the net increase in oil production is from the Bakken Range in North Dakota — on private land. As for the Administration’s role, Obama blocked the Keystone XL pipeline, for which one purpose is to send crude from the Bakken Range to refineries in Texas and Louisiana (though he did authorize a new refinery on Native American lands nearby). The Fish & Wildlife Service also brought a criminal action alleging that drilling operations led to the death of 20 to 25 birds at the time the agency grants waivers for the killing of thousands of birds, even endangered bald eagles, by wind turbines nationwide.

Then there is the issue of fracking (not addressed by either candidate on October 16th). The Bureau of Land Management in May issued proposed rules for disclosure of the chemicals used by fracking operations, but only after completion of drilling — despite demands by Obama supporters that the disclosures be made 30 days prior to drilling (a requirement that could well return should Obama win reelection). He also created a task force to streamline federal regulations on natural gas drilling, and new EPA air quality rules for oil and gas wells give drillers more time to comply with the new requirements than was originally intended. There are also new rules requiring protection of “usable” rather than just “fresh” waters.

In response, Barry Russell, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said that the new BLM rules “will undoubtedly insert an unnecessary layer of rigidity into the permitting and development process.”


  • Duggan Flanakin

    Duggan Flanakin is the Director of Policy Research at the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow. A former Senior Fellow with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Mr. Flanakin authored definitive works on the creation of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and on environmental education in Texas. A brief history of his multifaceted career appears in his book, "Infinite Galaxies: Poems from the Dugout."