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Becky Bowers
By Becky Bowers April 13, 2012

Crossroads GPS ad says oil production on federal lands dropped under President Barack Obama

A new Web ad from conservative group Crossroads GPS targets a presidential talking point on America’s oil production.

It argues that President Barack Obama takes credit for drilling that resulted from President George W. Bush's policies, while glossing over a recent decline in production on public land.

"Tell Obama, stop blaming others, and work to pass better energy policies!" a narrator says.

The ad starts with Obama’s claim that domestic oil production is at an eight-year high, something we’ve twice rated Mostly True.

Then a narrator asks: "Oh, really? His own administration admits production's down where Obama's in charge."

On screen, the ad displays a statistic from the Interior Department published by an energy news service that, "Oil production fell by 14 percent … on federal lands and waters."

That’s a one-year statistic we’ve also rated Mostly True.

This ad focuses on Obama’s role in domestic oil production on government land. We’re evaluating the claim that the president's oil "production's down where Obama's in charge."

The data

Greenwire, the energy news service cited by Crossroads, published Interior Department numbers for oil production on federal lands and waters in a Feb. 27, 2012, story, citing them in a second story,  which was the piece Crossroads used.

The story said, "Oil production fell by 14 percent in fiscal 2011 below the previous year on federal lands and waters, according to statistics provided last month by the Interior Department."

So, oil production on federal lands, onshore and offshore, fell from 2010-11, according to Obama administration agencies. So far, so good, for Crossroads’ analysis — other than the fact that it failed to cite a time period for the statistic it quoted from Greenwire.

Does that matter?

Yes, says Jay Hakes, who directed the independent U.S. Energy Information Administration for seven years during the Clinton administration. "From a statistical standpoint, to take one year out of three — one year is not indicative of a trend," he said.

We pulled the numbers since 2003 from a U.S. Energy Information Administration report, also based on data from the Interior Department and its Office of Natural Resources Revenue.

Bush was in office from January 2001 to January 2009. In our chart, we’ve italicized the years he was in office and put in bold the years Obama led.

The Obama administration points out that the average production for Obama’s first three years is a 13 percent increase over the average production over Bush’s last three years.

We note that:

• From 2004-08, well into Bush’s tenure, oil production on federal lands and waters fell in four of five years, for a net decrease of 16.8 percent.

• From 2009-11, the Obama years, oil production rose two of three years, for a net increase of 10.6 percent.

Crude oil sales from federal lands

Fiscal year Offshore (million barrels) Onshore Total Percent change from prior year 2003 579 101 680 n/a 2004 572 97 669 -1.6% 2005 542 96 638 -4.6% 2006 471 101 572 -10.3% 2007 514 105 619 +8.2 2008 462 104 566 -8.6% 2009 527 105 632 +11.7% 2010 618 108 726 +14.9% 2011 514 112 626 - 13.8%         Source: EIA; some numbers slightly off due to independent rounding in source data


What’s likely to happen this year and next?

EIA doesn’t have projections for total production on federal lands, says spokesman Jonathan Cogan, but does project that offshore production in the Gulf of Mexico will continue to lag through 2013, with a drop of less than 4 percent from 2011. (Here’s the data in millions of barrels per day, though it’s calendar year data vs. the fiscal year data we show above.)

Who’s to credit or blame?

So, does Bush get credit for domestic oil expansion on private land and Obama the blame for a drop in public production, as the Crossroad ad describes? The picture is quite a bit more complex than a 30-second ad allows.

"I don't think Obama can claim a lot of credit for production levels now, and I'm not even sure that Bush can," said Hakes, the author of A Declaration of Energy Independence, which looks at energy policy from President Harry S. Truman to President George W. Bush. "If you're going to go back — who should get the credit — I might be able to find something that Nixon did."

The expansion of fracking, for example — using pressurized fluid to get gas or oil out of rock formations — came about over decades.

"That's why attaching production things to any particular administration is a very, very tricky business, and probably best handled in books rather than in articles," Hakes said. "There are just too many factors."

So, Obama certainly shouldn’t be claiming full credit for increases in oil production on private land — but neither should supporters of Bush.

Meanwhile, the story of the one-year dropoff in public production has a significant asterisk: the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. A six-month moratorium on exploratory drilling followed — though it by no means stopped gulf oil production — along with changes in regulation that forced the industry to adjust.

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(Bush had his own disasters to contend with: Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 also drove a decline the next year, said Shirley Neff, a senior adviser at EIA.)

Oil production on federal land — not water — actually rose 3.7 percent in 2011. It was offshore production that took the hit, falling 16.8 percent. That’s something that Greenwire, the news service Crossroads cited in its ad, pointed out in its February story.

"This is a pretty significant decline; it almost has to represent the impact of the moratorium," Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research, told Greenwire for the article.

While the moratorium could have been more targeted, it wasn’t a policy choice unique to Obama, said Hakes, the former EIA director who also directed policy and research for the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

Republican President Richard Nixon, for example, ordered one in the wake of a 1969 well blowout in Santa Barbara, Calif. "Every president, if you have a blowout like that … is going to get a moratorium," Hakes said.

Meanwhile, before the spill, Obama had announced a "fairly expansive stance" toward offshore drilling, including off the Florida Panhandle and the coast of Virginia, Hakes said. While that movement stalled with the BP disaster, the president has still moved toward arctic drilling off the coast of Alaska, alarming some environmental advocates.

(We wrote about permit approvals under Obama in a fact-check of Rick Santorum, who had falsely claimed the president "put (up) a stop sign … against oil drilling.")

Our ruling

A Crossroads GPS ad says Obama takes credit for Bush-era policies, then blames him for a downturn in oil production on federal lands. While it’s true that the effect of a president’s policies don’t show up in oil production for some time — in some cases, decades — the ad goes too far when it cites a 14 percent decline in production in a single year as evidence of the impact of  Obama's overall energy strategy. The ad says oil production's down where Obama's in charge." The facts show that the decline represents a single year that followed years of substantial gains and occurred only offshore in the wake of a major oil disaster. The ad’s statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details and takes things out of context. We rate it Half True.


CORRECTION: We updated this item on April 18, 2012, to add the change from 2008 to 2009 to our net increase/decrease calculation for oil production on federal lands under Obama. That changed a small net decrease to a net increase of 10.6 percent. Our ruling has not changed.

Our Sources

Crossroads GPS, "Too Much," uploaded April 10, 2012 via YouTube

Greenwire, "Drilling leaves fed lands because state, private acres are cheaper, says BLM chief," March 15, 2012

Greenwire, "OIL AND GAS: Production on federal tracts fell in 2011," Feb. 27, 2012

NBC's Meet the Press with David Gregory, "David Plouffe, Rachel Maddow and a special roundtable on Meet the Press," March 25, 2012 (Gas prices discussion at 7:16)

CQ Newsmaker Transcripts, "David Gregory Hosts NBC's 'Meet the Press,'" March 25, 2011 (subscription only)

National Journal, "Obama’s Fuzzy Oil Production Math," March 17, 2011

U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Sales of Fossil Fuels Produced from Federal and Indian Lands, FY 2003 through FY 2011," March 2012

White House Blog, "American Energy: The Facts," March 15, 2012

Email interview with Reid Porter, media relations representative, American Petroleum Institute, April 12, 2012

American Petroleum Institute, "Administration Oil Strategy Contributes to Price Increases," accessed April 12, 2012

Washington Post, "Petroleum institute’s numbers on oil policy a matter of dispute," April 6, 2012

Interview with Jay Hakes, former director of the Energy Information Administration, April 12, 2012

Email interview with Jonathan Cogan, media contact for the U.S. Energy Information Administration, April 12, 2012

Email interview with Shirley Neff, senior adviser, U.S. Energy Information Administration, April 12, 2012

U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Short-Term Energy and Summer Fuels Outlook," April 10, 2012
PolitiFact Ohio, "Rob Portman says oil production on public lands was down 14 percent in 2011," April 2, 2012

PolitiFact Virginia, "Barack Obama ad says U.S. oil production is at eight-year high," April 9, 2012

PolitiFact, "Barack Obama says U.S. oil production last year was highest since 2003," March 15, 2011

PolitiFact, "Barack Obama says U.S. oil production is at eight-year high," Jan. 24, 2012

PolitiFact, "Rick Santorum says Barack Obama has raised a 'stop sign' on oil exploration," June 6, 2011

PolitiFact Rhode Island, "Mike Huckabee says President Obama's refusal to issue offshore drilling permits is one reason gasoline prices are soaring," April 12, 2012

PolitiFact, "Obama says he issued a six-month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling," June 16, 2010

Center for Public Integrity, "PAC profile: American Crossroads," Jan. 31, 2012

Center for Public Integrity, "Crossroads groups raise whopping $51 million in 2011," Jan. 31, 2012

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Crossroads GPS ad says oil production on federal lands dropped under President Barack Obama

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