In his State of the Union address on Jan. 24, 2012, President Barack Obama talked up U.S. oil production.
"Nowhere is the promise of innovation greater than in American-made energy," Obama said. "Over the last three years, we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I’m directing my administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources. Right now, American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years. That’s right – eight years. Not only that – last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past sixteen years."
This passage includes a number of claims, but here we’ll focus on the one that "right now, American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years."
We turned to the Energy Information Administration, the federal government’s official office for energy statistics. Since Obama said "oil production," we will only look at crude oil extracted from U.S. territory, rather than natural gas or other petroleum products.
Here are the annual totals, in barrels produced, going back to 2003:
The full-year data is available only through 2010, but 10 months of data from 2011 have been made public. Through the end of October 2011, production totaled 1,713,038,000 barrels. If that pace continues, the year-end total should be around 2,055,646,000 barrels -- higher than any year since 2003. That’s eight years ago, just as Obama said.
The last time we looked at this question in March 2011, we noted that production levels actually have been quite stable over the period in question. The estimated level for 2011 is only about 13 percent higher than for the lowest year in that eight-year period. So the increase the president is referring to is not particularly dramatic. In addition, levels of production were typically higher from the 1950s to the 1990s.
However, one caveat we mentioned in our last analysis -- that the Energy Information Administration projected that production totals were poised to fall over the subsequent two years -- no longer appears to be accurate.
The most recent "Short-Term Energy Outlook," published on Jan. 12, 2012, forecast increases in total crude oil production in 2012 and 2013, thanks to increases in onshore production in the Lower 48, which overshadow declines in production in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.
The last issue is whether Obama and his administration claimed credit for this achievement and whether they deserve it.
The government does play a role in shaping oil production, but many other factors, including private-sector business imperatives and the domestic and international energy market, are factors as well.
We think Obama’s phrasing suggests that he thinks the administration’s policies have played a role, saying, for instance, that "over the last three years, we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration." But we also think he does so cautiously.
Obama was correct when he said that "right now, American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years." We think he may have overstated his administration’s role in achieving that, but not wildly so. We rate the claim Mostly True.