Oil output on federal lands, offshore up under Obama, data show

Oil production on federal lands and offshore during the first three years of the Obama administration was 13 percent higher than from 2006 to 2008, according to new government data, though it did decrease somewhat between 2010 and 2011.

The new data from the Energy Information Administration, which produces nonpartisan energy data and reports, provided some relief to a White House that has taken a continual battering from Republicans in recent weeks. GOP lawmakers had alleged that President Obama’s policies have impeded U.S. oil production on federal lands and offshore, contributing to gasoline prices that have roughly doubled since he took office in early 2009.

The EIA report “confirms that the Obama Administration has overseen an overall expansion of production on federal lands and waters – as part of the nationwide rise in production levels,” Heather Zichal, White House energy and climate adviser, said in a statement.

Prior to the data’s release, Obama had noted that overall U.S. oil production is up under his watch. Republicans long responded that the increase has occurred on state and private lands that the president doesn’t control and that production in areas he does control decreased.

Then the EIA data came out, and the White House seized on them.

“Again, the facts speak for themselves,” Zichal said.

Prices at the pump have recently surged as ongoing Middle East concerns have forced up crude-oil prices, the major determinant of what drivers pay. Drivers in Houston were paying an average of $3.78 a gallon as of Friday morning, according to AAA.

Gasoline analysts say that presidents and lawmakers have virtually no influence over the complex array of global geopolitical factors that go into setting oil and gasoline prices and that policymakers have few short-term options, if any, to address the issue.

Saying no “short-term silver bullets” exist for pain at the pump, Obama has touted an “all-of-the-above” strategy involving more domestic oil and gas — though not as much as Republicans would like — as well as efficiency improvements and renewable energy to cut oil use. He argues that’s the best long-term solution to reduce U.S. vulnerability to price increases.

Obama and some Democrats have noted that boosting oil production alone won’t help bring lower gasoline prices.

“The prices that we are paying for oil and the products refined from oil such as gasoline are set on the world market,” said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “They’re relatively insensitive to what happens in the United States with regard to production.”

Although the White House touts that the general trend is upward, a closer look at the EIA data show that oil production on federal lands and waters did decrease from 726 million barrels in 2010 to 627 million in 2011.

Republicans pounced on that figure. They have long insisted that Obama has limited access to federal lands and waters, put forth regulations that impede production, among other things.

“These non-partisan statistics show federal oil and natural gas productions are declining as President Obama’s anti-energy policies catch up with him,” Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement.

The EIA report said the latest data “reflect government actions taken following the 2010 Macondo disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.” The government has imposed tougher safety regulations and imposed a deepwater drilling moratorium that was lifted in October 2010. The deepwater moratorium has especially come under fire from Republicans who say it’s to blame for the decline in Gulf activity after the spill. Republicans and Obama administration officials with the Interior Department have sparred over a slowdown in the rate of offshore permitting.

The White House pointed to the Gulf spill and said that year-to-year fluctuations are common based on market conditions and industry decisions.

“Still, the overall trends show a clear picture of rising domestic production,” Zichal said.

Natural-gas production on federal lands has increased 6 percent since Obama took office from 2006-2008 levels, but offshore natural gas production decreased, according to the White House.

But Zichal said the offshore natural gas decrease reflects business decisions by industry to shift toward onshore shale-gas production in areas like the South and East.

“Still, total federal natural gas production (offshore + onshore) has largely kept pace overall with levels before the President took office,” Zichal said.