- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Many energy industry experts are skeptical of Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s campaign promise to get gas back down to $2 a gallon if she’s elected.

“One thing that annoys me the most about politicians is that many will say or do just about anything to get elected,” said Robert Rapier of Consumer Energy Report. “My immediate reaction to that was to wonder whether she is really that naive or simply making dishonest campaign promises that she knows she can’t keep. Neither trait is one I want in a president.”

Bachmann skeptics say even if it were possible to lower gas to $2 a gallon, it wouldn’t be pretty: It could take a bad economy, tax cuts, increased subsidies and even price controls to get there. And, of course, it would involve more domestic drilling for oil.

“I’ve heard this one before — during my fifth grade student council election,” said Stephen Lacey of Climate Progress. ” ‘If I’m elected, I promise to get the lunch lady to serve more french fries with every meal in the cafeteria.’ “

But others say the Minnesota congresswoman has the right idea.

“I think it is realistic,” PFGBest analyst Phil Flynn said. “If you move toward natural gas in this country, if you allow drilling, if you start getting out of energy companies’ way, we could start heading in that direction.”

It won’t be easy, experts warn — even for a sitting president.

“I think anybody in the White House has the influence to increase prices,” said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service. But you can’t decrease them as easily as you can increase them, he explained.

The last time prices were that low was in 2008 — the midst of the Great Recession. As the economy tanked, demand dropped as laid-off workers drove less and companies cut back on travel.

Prices dipped into the $1.60 range at one point.

Lower prices at the pump helped cash-strapped drivers — but a recession, analysts point out, is a tough way to achieve that goal.

“Maybe that’s how she plans to do it: Send the economy into a deep depression,” Mr. Rapier joked. “That would likely mean a return to sub-$2 gasoline.”

Mrs. Bachmann, however, believes she can get gas down to $2 by promoting domestic drilling for oil.

“What Barack Obama has done is lock up America’s energy reserves,” Mrs. Bachmann said. “We’re the No. 1 energy-resource-rich nation in the world. We have more oil in three Western states in the form of shale oil than all the oil in Saudi Arabia.”

Republicans and oil groups are pushing for completion of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would deliver Canadian oil to refineries on the Texas coast. They say it would bring more than 1 million barrels of oil a day into the U.S. and help relieve the nation’s dependence on overseas oil.

According to Rayola Dougher, senior economic adviser for the American Petroleum Institute, permitting delays for drilling companies led to the loss of 60 million barrels between May 2010 and May 2011.

“We do know what we can do at home,” Ms. Dougher said, “and that would be more than we’ve been doing.”

But opponents say the amount of oil they could drill in the U.S. would barely make a dent in the amount the world consumes every day. Furthermore, if the U.S. increases production, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will probably offset the gains here by decreasing production.

Mrs. Bachmann could also look at putting gas taxes on the chopping block. Right now, that accounts for about 40 cents, or 11 percent, of gas prices, according to Deutsche Bank analyst Adam Sieminski.

“It’s very difficult to deliver on such a promise,” he said. “If you cut all of the taxes out, it would still be above $3.”

Christopher DeMorro of Gas 2.0 said that Mrs. Bachmann, with the right combination of tax and energy policies, could “bring … us to within spitting distance of $2 a gallon gasoline.”

“If Bachmann somehow wins both the GOP nomination and the 2012 presidential contest,” he said, “well, who is to say she won’t stick to that promise?”