The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Taking the President’s Energy Rhetoric to Task

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted March 20, 2012

The more the president talks about energy, the more heat he creates for himself. Here’s the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, weighing his rhetoric about the U.S. consuming 20 percent of the world’s oil while having just 2 percent of its proven reserves:

“ … this is a good example of what we call ‘non sequitur facts’ — two bits of information that actually bear little relationship to each other. The president is trying to make the case that the world has finite oil resources, and the United States — the world’s biggest oil consumer — needs to use less oil in the future. But using ‘oil reserves’ as a key metric gives an incomplete picture of U.S. oil resources.”

The Fact Checker points out that “proven reserves” is a specific term. The oil must have been discovered, confirmed by drilling and be economically recoverable – the latter dependent on the global price of crude.

But guess what? Proven reserves figures change as we drill new wells, discover more oil, hard-to-get oil becomes economically viable and new technologies come on line. That’s how the U.S. could produce something like 200 billion barrels since 1990 – even though its proven reserves peaked at 40 billion barrels in 1970. That’s how, even though U.S. production and consumption will grow, projected proven preserves in 2035 will be 30 percent greater than at the end of 2010 (U.S. Lower 48).

Here’s what the president isn’t telling Americans: There’s approximately 200 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable American oil that isn’t counted with “proven reserves” – or mentioned in his speeches, a fairly gaping fact omission that’s deliberately misleading.

More Fact Checker:

“Measuring the U.S. consumption against its proven oil reserves makes little sense. Europe, with the exception of Russia, Kazakhstan and Norway, has virtually no oil reserves. Japan, a major consumer, has zero. China’s oil reserves are about half the size of the United States. In fact, in the relative scheme of things, the United States is relatively blessed with proven oil reserves — and, given the U.S. technological advantage, also with potentially large resources of oil yet to be tapped. … (I)n the context of higher gas prices — which is how the president often uses these figures now — it just is not logical to compare consumption to ‘proven oil reserves.’ This is a lowball figure that does not begin to describe the oil known to be within the U.S. borders.”

The United States is energy rich, not energy deficient, as the president makes it sound at a time when U.S. consumers are taking a beating. America has options. There’s oil in remote Alaska, off both coasts and on federal lands. With the right policies and leadership the U.S. could see 100 percent of its liquid fuel needs met domestically and from Canada by 2024.

Meanwhile, columnist Charles Krauthammer picks up on a key bit of illogic in the president’s recent energy riff – that decreasing U.S. demand for crude oil affects global prices but increasing U.S. crude supplies doesn’t. Krauthammer:

“‘The American people aren’t stupid,’ Obama said (Feb. 23), mocking ‘Drill, baby, drill.’ The ‘only solution,’ he averred in yet another major energy speech last week, is that ‘we start using less — that lowers the demand, prices come down.’ Yet five paragraphs later he claimed that regardless of ‘how much oil we produce at home … that’s not going to set the price of gas worldwide.’  So: Decreasing U.S. demand will lower oil prices, but increasing U.S. supply will not? This is ridiculous. Either both do or neither does.”

Krauthammer is spot on here. Given the fact that crude oil accounts for 76 percent of the price Americans pay at the pump, the crude supply is the biggest factor in the energy equation. Decreased crude oil demand at one end of the equation can have an effect, but so can increased crude supply at the other. The president is for the first part but in denial on the second. Sen. Chuck Schumer certainly gets the importance of supply, renewing his call for Saudi Arabia to commit to make up for any lost Iranian production.

Supply matters, and the U.S. can affect supplies – even if the president won’t say it. API President and CEO Jack Gerard, speaking at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing earlier this month:

“A strategy that confidently deploys resources here at home will send a clear message to global markets that the United States is serious about affecting supply. To the American people it will say help’s on the way.”


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.