Obama, Romney Offer Differing Facts on Energy Production

Much like the first presidential debate, there was no mention of climate change in the second match-up between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. But there was more talk about energy than during the first debate.

And, predictably, there was lots of work to be done by fact-checkers in the day following.

One of the most intense exchanges of the night was over oil and gas production on federal lands. Romney said production of oil on government land is down 14 percent, and production of gas is down nine percent.

Obama responded: “What you’re saying is just not true. It’s just not true.”

So, which is it? NBC’s Truth Squad took a look and determined that Romney was right about the gas production, but his oil production numbers were misleading.

What’s the truth? Oil production did fall by 14 percent on federal lands – onshore and offshore –  but that was only in one year, from 2010 to 2011.

And it was mainly the result of fallout from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

But Obama is correct, that since he took office, oil production on federal lands is up.

In both 2009 and 2010, oil production increased … so even with the 14 percent drop last year, overall production on federal land is still up 10.6 percent since 2008. 

But natural gas production on federal lands is down, and has been declining since 2003, according to the Energy Information Administration, mainly because of a decline in offshore natural gas drilling. 

Non-partisan fact-checker Politifact took a look at this claim too, based on a SuperPAC ad that was circulating in the spring.

Romney specifically mentioned federal lands, but Obama used different statistics to make his point. “So here’s what I’ve done since I’ve been president,” he said. “We have increased oil production to the highest levels in 16 years. Natural gas production is the highest it’s been in decades. We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment.”

The oil claim is true, according to a recent story from Fox Business. And so is the gas claim, according to EIA data, though most of the credit for that increase goes to tapping the vast reserves of gas in the Marcellus Shale.

But the coal claim is more complicated. Here again, Obama and Romney each argued the complete opposite of the other. Obama said both coal production and coal jobs are up, while Romney said they’re both down. It depends on what facts you look at.

The latest annual coal report from the Energy Information Administration, which incorporates data from 2010, shows that coal production actually increased 0.9 percent from 2009 to 2010. So the latest numbers slightly favor Obama’s statement.

But from 2008 to 2009, coal production decreased considerably, by 8.3 percent. The EIA noted that this was the largest percent decline since 1958.

Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward Jr. puts those numbers in context on his blog Coal Tattoo:

Well, coal production nationwide last year was down about 6 percent over the last year of the Bush administration.  But the 2008 year was an all-time record, with 1.171 billion tons. Production dropped off the following year, as the economic downturn hit, but it’s increased again in 2010 and 2011. As for jobs, nationwide coal jobs during the 2nd quarter of 2012 — the most recent data available from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration — showed 91,110 jobs nationwide, an increase over 89,854 during the last quarter of the Bush administration. Even the National Mining Association has touted the increase in jobs during the first three years of the Obama administration, though as coalfield families know, there’s been a long line of layoffs announced this year here in Appalachia. Regarding federal land coal-mining, by the way, production was down only slightly last year out in Wyoming, and employment was actually up a little bit.

During the debate–and the campaign season–both men have been competing to be the biggest champions of American energy. But how much should voters be paying attention to these claims? As I’ve blogged about before, it’s questionable whether any president—no matter how pro-coal or pro-oil or pro-gas—could affect energy production.

Erica Peterson

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL.

@ericampeterson

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