President Barack Obama looks down on drilling almost as much as he does on people clinging bitterly to their guns and religion.
At a recent campaign event, he mocked Republicans for their three-point energy plan, every point of which he said is a call for more drilling. When the hilarity died down, he assailed all this prospective oil and gas exploration as “not a plan,” but “a bumper sticker,” a cynical and witless attempt to demagogue soaring gas prices. Pity the fools who propose such asininity and the simple-minded souls who believe it.
In practically his next breath, though, the president bragged that “under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years.” The “under my administration” is particularly rich. It implies that the lights have been on late at night at the Department of Energy — compact fluorescents, no doubt — while bureaucrats figured out how to make the United States a pincushion for the great and good work of those much misunderstood oil companies.
While lamenting the bumper-sticker simplicities of his opponents, the president of nuance neglected to mention a few details. On federal lands, oil production declined 11 percent from 2010 to 2011, according to the pro-drilling Institute for Energy Research. On state and private lands, production increased 14 percent. Natural-gas production on federal lands dropped 27 percent from 2009, and increased 28 percent on state and private lands. The president took credit for a trend with which he had nothing to do and which he has tried to obstruct.
Leases for onshore exploration under the Obama administration are down roughly 35 percent from the Bush administration and 70 percent from the Clinton administration. The Obama administration deigned to look at opening new offshore areas to exploration in 2010; then the BP oil spill hit, and the administration locked down again. When he wants to pose as pro-drilling, Obama essentially pretends that he’s the president of North Dakota.
If the sheiks who run OPEC prospected for new members in America’s heartland, they’d be trying to sign up the Peace Garden State. North Dakota’s oil production increased more than 50 percent during the past year, and tripled during the past five years. This has nothing to with the president. It is the work of old-fashioned ingenuity — innovations in hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling that unlocked the Bakken formation — and the profit motive.
We should want to replicate North Dakotas everywhere we can. Yet we deny ourselves access to oil and gas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, off about half the Gulf Coast, and in and around Alaska. We could be sitting on as much as 1.4 trillion barrels of technically recoverable oil. That’s an enormous amount of wealth that we turn up our noses at. If nothing else, recovering our oil and gas would create thousands of the blue-collar jobs that Democrats — rightly — say we need more of.
And oil companies will pay the federal government for the privilege. Imagine if Solyndra had given the feds $500 million to build its solar-panel plant in California, rather than the other way around. At the same time the Obama administration has thrown billions of dollars at green energy — the president’s latest enthusiasm is algae — it has denied the government billions of dollars of revenue from new leases.
It also happens that fossil fuels actually work, and even have unexpected benefits. The always-fascinating energy experts Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger note that carbon emissions in the United States have been declining and are projected to continue to do so. The short-term decline is a byproduct of the recession, but the future decline will have to do with new supplies of cleaner-burning natural gas. Europe, meanwhile, hasn’t made progress on emissions despite its cap-and-trade system. Fracking is helping us do what Euro-regulations are failing at.
The president may snicker all he likes. But the first three points of any energy plan worthy of the name should be drill, frack, and repeat.