Updated April 13, 2012
Two recent government reports show that while President Obama's claim that U.S. domestic production of oil is at an 8-year high is correct, he should take care not to overstate his administration's role in the achievement.
"Domestic oil and natural gas production has increased every year President Obama has been in office," states the White House website. "In 2011, American oil production reached the highest level in nearly a decade and natural gas production reached an all-time high."
Also See: The End of Oil? Oil Independence Redefined
Tying increased petroleum production to a reduction in the nation's dependence on imported oil, the White House goes on to claim, "Since President Obama took office, America's dependence on foreign oil has decreased every year. In 2010, the United States imported less than half of all oil consumed - a first in 13 years."
That's Basically Correct
In it's report U.S. Oil Imports and Exports, the independent and bipartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) notes that since 2005, U.S. domestic production of oil has increased by 24%, indeed reaching an 8-year high of 9.2 million barrels a day by the end of 2011. Over the same period, Americans' petroleum consumption actually decreased by 9%, falling to 18.8 million barrels per day.
CRS also reports that from 2005 to 2011, net U.S. oil imports fell by 33% and now account for 45% of the nation's total oil consumption, down from 60% in 2005.
But Not So Fast, Mr. President
While President Obama's claim that domestic oil production has increased during each of the four years he has been in office is correct, both the CRS report U.S. Oil Imports and Exports and data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that domestic oil production increased at a similar rate during 2004 to 2008, the last four years of the George W. Bush administration. In other words, the increase in domestic oil production under President Obama is, in reality, a continuation of a trend which began under President Bush.
In addition, the President of the United States - any President of the United States - can only control oil and gas exploration and production on lands and offshore areas owned and controlled by the federal government. According to U.S. Oil Imports and Exports, 96% of the increase in domestic oil production since 2007 has taken place on privately owned, nonfederal lands, thus making it oil and gas production in which Presidents Obama and Bush had little or no role.
According to the EIA report Fossil Fuels Produced from Federal and Indian Lands, 2003-2011, only 31.8% of all domestic oil produced in 2011 came from federal lands under the president's control. The 31.8% of oil and gas produced on federal lands in 2011 was actually below the nine-year average of 33.4%, the EIA report shows.
In reality, reports the EIA, 68.2% of the increase in U.S. oil and gas production in 2011 came from state and privately-owned lands not under the president's control. While oil production on state and privately-owned lands increased by almost 150 million barrels from 2010 to 2011, production on federally-owned lands during 2011 actually decreased by 14% or 83 million barrels from a nine-year high reached in 2010.
The CRS report U.S. Oil Imports and Export, confirms that in 2011, oil production on federally-controlled lands -- lands under presidential control -- decreased by 275,000 barrels per day.
Oil Drilling on Federally-Owned Lands
According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, the federal government controls oil and gas production on nearly 2.5 billion acres of land and offshore zones, including the 1.7 billion acre U.S. Outer Continental Shelf.
Also See: Obama Moves to Expand Offshore Drilling
According to policies set by the President of the United States, with the advice of public- and private-sector petroleum and energy experts, the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regulates exploration for and production of oil and gas, along with other minerals, on all lands owned by the federal government.
Also See: No Free or Cheap Government Land
BLM controls oil and gas exploration and production through the leasing of federally-owned lands to private-sector petroleum companies. BLM also reviews and approves all permits and licenses allowing the petroleum companies to explore, develop, and produce both non-renewable (oil and gas) and renewable energy on federal lands. The BLM is also responsible for ensuring that all proposed energy resource development projects comply with all applicable environmental laws and regulations.
Both the federal and state governments benefit from rentals, royalties and related payments made by the petroleum companies in return for the right to use federally-owned lands. According to the BLM, petroleum companies paid $5.5 billion just for onshore energy leasing and production during 2008. Money from oil and gas production is shared equally by the federal and state governments.
The Great BP Oil Spill Effect
In response to criticism for the federal government's response to the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar ordered sweeping changes in the procedures by which the government approves permits for production of oil and gas in the Outer Continental Shelf.
Among other changes, Salazar's actions resulted in the creation of a new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) assigned specifically to ensure the safe and "sustainable" development of both conventional (oil and gas) and renewable energy resources in the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf.