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The concern that the United States is not producing enough energy, resulting in high fuel prices, has been one of the themes of the 2012 election season. It came up during the Oct. 9, 2012, Eyewitness News debate between Democratic U.S. Rep. James Langevin and Republican challenger Michael Riley.
Langevin, asked about energy, said the United States should tap whatever natural resources it can, but added, "The reality is that the United States doesn't have enough of the world's energy supplies to make a real appreciable difference in controlling or bringing down our energy costs.
"Under the Obama administration we are drilling and producing more domestic energy supplies than we ever had before and it really hasn't had much of an impact on bringing down energy prices," he said.
We hadn't heard that the United States is producing more energy than ever before. We decided to see if it was true.
We asked the Langevin campaign for the source of the candidate's claim.
His communications director, Jonathon Dworkin, responded by e-mail that, "The Congressman misspoke when he said 'ever,' as he realized after the debate."
"His point was that during the Obama administration, domestic drilling had increased significantly from the years before he took office, going back either 8 or 25 years depending on what you want to measure," said Dworkin.
He sent us a statement from the U.S. Department of the Interior asserting that domestic oil production is at an eight-year high and an Aug. 27, 2011, chart from The Wall Street Journal showing that the number of rigs drilling for oil in the United States had risen to 1,069, the highest level since at least 1987, according to data from the oil services company Baker Hughes Inc.
We also looked at some of the statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and found that the United States has a long way to go before producing more oil than it ever has.
U.S. production of crude oil peaked at nearly 3.52 billion barrels in 1970. In 2011, production was 2.07 billion barrels. That's about 41 percent below the peak. Production bottomed out at 1.83 billion barrels in 2008 -- the last year of the George W. Bush administration -- and has subsequently risen 13 percent. July production was 194 million barrels; aside from last March, that's the highest since May 1998.
(Many people assume that when you produce more oil, it lowers prices at the gasoline pump. But the Associated Press compared EIA data on domestic oil production with gasoline prices over the past 36 years and found that there was no link.)
But although Langevin's spokesman sent us information about oil prices, Langevin's debate statement was more general, encompassing all energy supplies.
We found that if you look at all fossil fuels, not just crude oil, part of Langevin's statement was correct.
The United States produced 60.1 quadrillion British thermal units of fossil fuel energy in 2011, more than any year in the EIA database going back to 1949, according to the agency's latest data, which is preliminary. (Using the BTU scale allows a comparison between different types of energy.)
Fossil fuel production is higher than ever before because coal production has been rising steadily (except for the past few years) and natural gas production has increased dramatically, in part because companies are using the controversial technique of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to pull more gas from the ground.
However, Langevin's statement saying that this happened "under the Obama administration" suggests that the administration was responsible for this trend.
As we have stressed in the past, market forces play the biggest role in determining energy production. In this case, high prices for fossil fuels have encouraged production.
U.S. Rep. James Langevin, during a discussion that touched on energy policy, said, "Under the Obama administration, we are drilling and producing more domestic energy supplies than we ever had before."
Crude oil production in the United States has, in fact, risen recently after a 38-year decline but it is far from its historic high.
However, overall fossil fuel production is the highest it’s ever been, thanks mostly to a sharp increase in natural gas production since 2005.
Langevin may have thought he misspoke, but he actually had the larger trend right.
What he got wrong was the suggestion that the Obama administration was responsible when, in fact, the role of any administration in such matters is usually limited.
Because the statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context, we rate it Half True.
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WPRI.com, "Newsmakers CD2 Debate: Langevin, Riley," Oct. 9, 2012
E-mail, Jonathon Dworkin, spokesman, Rep. James Langevin, Oct. 10, 2012
DOI.gov, "Obama Administration Announces 38 Million-Acre Oil and Gas Lease Sale in the Central Gulf of Mexico," U.S. Department of Interior, Sept. 24, 2012, accessed Oct. 11, 2012
WSJ.com, "Number of the Week: How Many Rigs Are Drilling for Oil?" Wall Street Journal online, Aug. 27, 2011, accessed Oct. 11, 2012
EIA.gov, "U.S. Field Production of Crude Oil," U.S. Energy Information Administration, data tab, "Petroleum and Other Liquids," annual history, Sept. 27, 2012, accessed Oct. 12, 2012
EIA.gov, "Table 1.2 Primary Energy Production by Source, Selected Years, 1949-2011," and "Figure 1.2 - Primary Energy Production by Source," U.S. Energy Information Administration - Annual Energy Review 2011, accessed Oct. 12, 2012
Yahoo.com, "Fact Check: More US drilling didn't drop gas price," Associated Press, March 21, 2012, accessed Oct. 11, 2012
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