- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The U.S. is enjoying a huge oil and gas energy boom but the Obama administration has been left behind as production on federal lands has lagged, according to a new nonpartisan report that energy advocates said shows President Obama is a squandering opportunities to make the U.S. more energy independent.

The administration, though, predicted boom years on federal lands are just around the corner, saying they are selling leases at a fast clip and that will soon pay off with more production.

Since 2009, when Mr. Obama took office, crude oil production on federal lands has slipped by more than 6 percent, but production on non-federal lands has grown by 60 percent, according to the Congressional Research Service. If federal lands production had kept up, the U.S. would be pumping more than 8.4 million barrels of oil a day.

Natural gas production has likewise jumped 33 percent on state and private land but has dropped dramatically on federal property. If federal production had kept pace, it would be nearly twice as high as it is today.

“While President Obama has been anxious to take credit for increased oil and gas production, the only areas he is responsible for is on federal lands — the only areas where oil and gas production is actually decreasing,” said Rep. Ed Whitfield, Kentucky Republican and chairman of the House’s energy and power subcommittee.

But the Interior Department said it’s making major strides in production on federal lands, including cutting processing times and getting more acres under production.

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Onshore production is actually doing well on federal lands, having risen every year under Mr. Obama. As of 2013, the Bureau of Land Management had 12.6 million acres producing oil and gas, and processing times for drilling permits were the lowest they’d been in eight years.

The slowdown has been offshore, where production dropped after the 2010 Deep Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, which sparked a drilling moratorium and left the industry and the administration in conflict.

Interior Department spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw said a rebound is underway, with more rigs working in the Gulf than before the spill, and even more on the way next year.

Processing times for offshore permits have dropped from 71 days in 2011 to 59 days in 2013.

“Domestic oil and gas production has grown each year the president has been in office and renewable electricity generation from wind, solar, and geothermal sources has doubled,” Ms. Kershaw said. “Combined with recent declines in oil consumption, foreign oil imports now account for less than 40 percent of the oil consumed in America — the lowest level since 1988.”

Energy production has been a complicated issue for Mr. Obama, who has generously funded renewable energy but has also laid claim to an “all-of-the-above” strategy that includes oil and natural gas.

Indeed, in the 2012 presidential campaign, Mr. Obama told GOP opponent Mitt Romney during a terse debate exchange that it was “just not true” that domestic oil production on federal lands had dropped.

But the CRS numbers show gas production on federal lands — measured both onshore and offshore — has dropped every year, from 5.4 billion cubic feet in 2009, to 3.9 billion cubic feet in 2013. Crude oil production on federal lands did rise from 2009 to 2010, reaching nearly 2 million barrels per day, but has since cratered, falling 16 percent to less than 1.7 million barrels a day.

If federal-lands crude production had kept pace with the rest of the country, it would mean more than 1 million more barrels a day of oil being produced inside the U.S.

“A million barrels a day is $100 million worth of oil that we currently purchase from other people,” said Daniel Kish, senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research. “We spend $100 million to buy that oil that we could be producing here at home, paying Americans to make it rather than other people to make it.”

Mr. Kish, though, also predicted that with the gulf oil spill receding, federal production could rebound — and do so in a big way, with some massive new projects poised to come on line over the next couple of years.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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