Friday, December 19th, 2014
Mostly True
Obama
"Thanks in part to our all-of-the-above strategy for American energy," the United States generates "more natural gas than anybody."

Barack Obama on Saturday, January 18th, 2014 in a Saturday radio address

Barack Obama says U.S. generates 'more natural gas than anybody'

A crew works on a drilling rig at a well site for shale-based natural gas in Zelienople, Pa., in 2012. The United States drilling industry has been using advanced technology to vault into an international lead in natural gas production.

During a recent radio address, President Barack Obama said the nation’s energy picture was robust.

"Thanks in part to our all-of-the-above strategy for American energy, for the first time in nearly two decades, we produce more oil here at home than we buy from the rest of the world," Obama said on Jan. 18, 2014. "We generate more renewable energy than ever, and more natural gas than anybody."

We’ve previously checked one of these claims. Earlier this month, we gave a True rating to Obama’s claim that "for the first time in nearly two decades, we produce more oil here in the United States than we buy from the rest of the world."

But we hadn’t fact-checked his claim that we generate "more natural gas than anybody." So we’ll check it here.

We turned to two widely used sources for energy data. One is the Statistical Review of World Energy, published by petroleum giant BP. The other is the website of the Energy Information Administration, an office of the U.S. Department of Energy.

According to BP’s data, United States natural gas production in 2012 was 619 million tons of oil equivalent, or 20.4 percent of the world. The only nation that came close to that was the Russian Federation, which produced 533 million tons of oil equivalent, or 17.6 percent of the world total.

So by this measurement, Obama was correct. And the Energy Information Administration data concurs that the United States was No. 1 in the world.

According to EIA -- which has figures as recent as 2011 -- the gross natural gas production by the United States was 28.5 trillion cubic feet, or 19.7 percent of the world total. The figure for Russia was 23.7 trillion cubic feet, or 16.4 percent of the world total.

That said, there are still some issues to factor in.

One is that there’s no guarantee that every country’s data is reliable, since not every nation has put the same effort into researching the question -- or, if they have, they may not be interested in sharing accurate information with economic rivals. While it would seem less likely that Russia would undercount its production than overcount it, it can’t be ruled out that, intentionally or unintentionally, the Russian figure for production is higher than these tables would suggest.

The second issue is whether it’s justified for Obama to claim a share of the credit for the United States’ burst of natural gas production.

It’s nothing new that the United States is at or near the top in natural gas production internationally. According to BP’s data, the United States and Russia have traded off the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in natural gas production ever since the data separated out the Russian Federation from the old Soviet Republics in 1985.

Since 1985, the United States has outpaced the Russian Federation in 13 years: 1985, 1986, 1995, 1997 to 2002 and 2009 to 2012. During the same period, the Russian Federation outpaced the United States from 1987 to 1994, 1996 and 2003 to 2008.

The United States’ lead over Russia has increased during Obama’s tenure. The United States produced 12 percent more natural gas than Russia in 2009, but 16 percent more than Russia in 2012. A big reason is the expansion of natural gas extracted from shale, using advanced technologies known as fracking.

In some areas of the country, fracking has kicked off an economic boom, and measured by carbon emissions at the point of combustion, natural gas represents an improvement over oil or coal. But environmentalists argue that there are other downsides to fracking, from the risk of localized water contamination to higher carbon emissions when the entire drilling and transportation cycle is considered.

We won’t referee this debate, but we will note that both advocates of drilling and environmentalists have criticized Obama, either for being too cautious about promoting natural gas development or being too eager to support it.

When we looked at Obama’s campaign promise to expedite oil and gas drilling from domestic shale formations, we rated it a Compromise, noting that the numbers can be framed in ways that can either support or weaken the case that Obama has sped up the process of developing oil and natural gas resources.

Obama did issue an executive order in 2012, titled, "Supporting Safe and Responsible Development of Unconventional Domestic Natural Gas Resources" that established an interagency working group to "facilitate coordinated" federal efforts on new types of natural gas extraction.

"While natural gas production is carried out by private firms, and states are the primary regulators of onshore oil and gas activities, the federal government has an important role to play by regulating oil and gas activities on public and Indian trust lands, encouraging greater use of natural gas in transportation, supporting research and development aimed at improving the safety of natural gas development and transportation activities, and setting sensible, cost-effective public health and environmental standards to implement federal law and augment state safeguards," the order said.

Alan Krupnick, a senior fellow at Resources for the Future, a think tank that tracks energy policy, said that the administration at the very least "has not interfered with the shale gas revolution, which I'd say is something. In my view, the Environmental Protection Agency has not been heavy-handed on environmental concerns" relating to natural gas.

Still, as the administration acknowledged, the advances in shale-based natural gas extraction largely developed due to the private sector. And given the long-term pattern, it’s clear that natural gas production in the United States was already high before Obama took office.

"Obama's claim, implied or voiced, rings hollow," said Joel Darmstadter, a senior fellow at Resources for the Future. "The shale gas fracking revolution, especially in its development phase, antedates Obama's presidency. And the bonanza it has created and the dramatic price declines it has spurred don't seem to me to be traceable to any of his administration's policies."

Our ruling

Obama said, "Thanks in part to our all-of-the-above strategy for American energy," the United States generates "more natural gas than anybody."

The best available data suggests that he’s right about the United States being No. 1 in the world in natural gas production, though it’s more in dispute whether his administration deserves credit (or, in the eyes of some environmentalists, blame) for "part" of this development, as Obama put it. On balance, we rate his claim Mostly True.