Claiming a key victory in the fight to escape reliance on foreign fuel, the Obama administration announced Wednesday that domestic oil production surpassed imports for the first time in nearly two decades.
The report offers proof that the U.S. is moving toward energy independence and also gives an embattled White House a desperately needed piece of good news amid the failed Obamacare rollout, seemingly never-ending revelations about American spying and other recent troubles.
For President Obama personally, the rise in U.S. oil and gas drilling — coupled with recent figures showing the nation’s carbon emissions have dropped to a 20-year low — bolster his argument that the U.S. can both address climate change and embrace an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy simultaneously.
But analysts say Mr. Obama, who came into office pledging to confront global warming and make the environment a top priority, has benefited from being in the right place at the right time — and, to some degree, staying out of the way.
“Tha fact of the matter is, it’s just basically good luck,” said Robert H. Nelson, a professor of environmental policy at the University of Maryland and a specialist in energy and environmentalism. Mr. Obama “hasn’t made the federal government a fundamental obstacle [to domestic oil and natural gas production], which could have happened. He’s tried to facilitate it, but he’s also not wanted to offend the more radical environmental wing of his party, which is an important part of his constituency.”
With the rise and perfection of fracking, a revolutionary drilling technique that’s transformed the American energy landscape, there’s little doubt that Mr. Obama walked into an ideal situation.
Oil and gas production on federal lands remains sluggish, but drilling on private lands has skyrocketed, leading to an American energy production renaissance.
The shift also has led directly to the drop in carbon emissions as the free market increasingly has turned to cheaper natural gas than coal, the latter of which produces much greater carbon emissions.
Still, the White House wasted little time in seizing on Wednesday’s good news and taking at least some credit.
“This is a significant milestone, a reflection of the president’s ‘all-of-the-above’ approach to energy production as well as his commitment to reducing carbon emissions,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. “It’s rather remarkable, if you look at the trajectory over the last two decades, that we are now importing less foreign oil than we are producing here at home.”
Indeed, the U.S. averaged 7.7 million barrels of crude oil production per day in October, according to figures from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
That’s the highest number since 1995, and is expected to rise to an average of about 8.5 million barrels per day in 2014, the agency said.
In 2010, Mr. Obama’s second year in office, the nation averaged 5.4 million barrels per day.
The natural gas sector has seen similar, dramatic rises in production, leading to forecasts that show the U.S. being virtually energy independent within a decade, assuming current trends are allowed to continue.
At the same time, carbon emissions — seen as the driving force behind climate change — have dropped significantly over the past few years.