(Source: Boston Herald)By Mackubin Thomas Owens
On several recent occasions, President Barack Obama has claimed
that in 2010, U.S. oil production reached its highest level in seven
years and that oil production from federal waters in the Gulf of
Mexico reached an all-time high. “So any notion that my
administration has shut down oil production might make for a good
political sound-bite, but it doesn’t match up with reality.”
That’s all well and good as far as it goes, but the claim needs
to be placed in context. A 2007 report by the Department of Energy’s
Energy Information Agency predicated that oil production from
federal lands and offshore sites in 2010 would be 16 percent higher
than what Obama’s policies have actually produced.
Analyzing the same report makes it clear that Obama’s energy
policies will lead to a further — and dramatic — decrease in oil
production on federal lands in the future. Under Obama’s policies,
oil production in federal lands and the Gulf of Mexico will fall by
15 percent in 2011 and will decline by 26 percent in 2012 from the
2010 production high.
The president went on to say that “even if we tap every single
reserve available to us, we can’t escape the fact that we only
control 2 percent of the world’s oil, but we consume over a quarter
of the world’s oil.” The implication is that we must continue to
lavishly subsidize uneconomical “green” energy sources since the oil
is “just not there.”
But this “2 percent” is misleading. It refers to “proven
reserves” of petroleum, a slippery concept indeed. The concept of
proven reserves depends on current economic conditions — prices and
costs prevailing at the time of the estimate, operating methods and,
perhaps most importantly, government regulations. If these
circumstances change, proven reserves change as well. Thus when the
price of oil rises, proven reserves increase. And a reduction of
government regulations would also increase proven reserves.
The Congressional Research Service found that in addition to
America’s proven reserves of 19.1 billion barrels — the number the
president cited — the United States has access to deposits of
“technically-recoverable” oil, meaning that total U.S. reserves
amount to 164.1 billion barrels, 8.5 times the figure cited by the
president. And this doesn’t include oil shale, which according to
DOE provides recoverable reserves of 1 trillion barrels.
Of course the political reality of the rising price of oil and
skyrocketing gasoline prices puts the president in a bind.
Accordingly, he did offer a short-term solution: tapping the
strategic petroleum reserve which was never intended to alleviate
spikes in gas prices, but to ensure emergency access in the event of
a global catastrophe.
The irony is that the administration is willing to tap this
critical but finite reserve while it continues to prohibit most new
domestic oil and gas production.
The president is correct to say that Congress needs to “get
moving on a comprehensive energy strategy that pursues both more
energy production and more energy conservation.”
A good place to start would be to lift the many onerous
regulatory burdens and restrictions on production that have gotten
the United States into this situation in the first place.
Mackubin Thomas Owens is a professor of national security affairs
at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport R.I., and editor of Orbis,
the quarterly journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. The
views expressed here are his alone.
Originally published by By MACKUBIN THOMAS OWENS.
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