Whether Romney and Obama is president,look for increased oil and gas production, and yet oil imports will continue unless American reduces consumption. Romney's energy plan turns rejects energy conservation and renewable energy. It's drill baby drill in the Arctic, the Gulf of Mexico, everywhere.
Anyone hoping the US will soon switch to sustainable energy might consider voting third party. Both Obama and Romney plan to boost oil and gas production.
Nevertheless, substantial differences separate them on energy. Obama has called for reviews of drilling plans and has supported modest steps toward renewable energy and improved energy efficiency. Romney wants none of that. He promises to open up drilling his first day in office and downplays renewable energy. His energy plan says nothing about energy efficiency, a sign he would ignore it. After all, Congressional Republicans have fought vehicle fuel-efficiency standards and mandates for compact fluorescents. Expect Romney to follow their lead.
Pull a cord and the Romney energy doll repeats three themes. One is deceptive, that Mitt would make America an energy superpower in the 21st century. One is misleading, that he would deliver energy self-sufficiency by 2020. The outright lie is that Obama stands in the way.
"Energy superpower" suits Romney's campaign: a catchy phrase, but meaningless. Already the US produces more energy than any other country, half again as much as Russia, which sits in second place, and almost three times as much as Saudi Arabia. And we're right up there with both those countries on domestic oil production. The reason we import oil is that the US is the world's superconsumer. The solution is better energy efficiency.
Attacks on Obama
Romney's White Paper on Energy serves up a whopper: "President Obama has intentionally sought to shut down oil, gas, and coal production in pursuit of his own alternative energy agenda."
Then why is production of oil and natural gas up? Why did the US import 60 percent of its oil in 2005, under Bush Jr., but 45 percent in 2011, under Obama? Romney cherrypicks a drop in oil and gas drilling leases that occurred from 2010 to 2011, forgetting that drilling went down under Bush Jr. and rose under Obama.
Romney protests moratoria that Obama imposed on offshore drilling, ignoring the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster that prompted them. To hell with fishing and beaches--Mitt would have trusted BP and friends.
Coastguard -- Deepwater Horizon Fire by Florida Sea Grant
For better or worse, the moratoria have been lifted in the Gulf of Mexico. Up north Obama has let Shell do exploratory drilling in the Arctic Ocean, off Alaska.
Romney says Obama blocks the Keystone pipeline, depriving Americans of oil. In fact Keystone has been carrying oil to an Illinois refinery since 2010. What Obama delayed is the Keystone XL extension, designed to carry Canadian oil to a deepwater port at Houston, where it would be available for export.
Every Republican president since Nixon said they'd boost domestic oil production. Instead, it declined 16 percent under Reagan and Big Bush, 15 percent under Little Bush.
In contrast, US oil production went up under Carter and gained six percent during Obama's first three years in office. Other factors were at work, but the contrast nonetheless highlights the emptiness of claims made by GOP presidents.
Now Romney makes the same promise and sounds like he'd provide American gasoline for Americans' SUVs. In reality oil and gas production will rise in the next few years no matter who is president. Despite those gains, oil imports will continue.
Ferret out the details, and it turns out that Romney means North American energy self-sufficiency; Mexico and Canada would help. His campaign's White Paper on Energy claims that " surging U.S. energy production, combined with the resources of America's neighbors, can meet all of the continent's energy needs within a decade. " Exactly where would the oil come from?
Let's start with how much is out there. USGS estimates of US domestic resources, including both crude oil and liquids recovered from natural gas, including both proved reserves and the oil they think we'll ultimately discover and find ways to extract, amount to 162 billion barrels. That sounds vast, but is only 23 times present annual consumption. The US has already produced 210 billion barrels of oil; the udder is more than half empty.
Further, the old teats are not gushing the way they used to, which limits how fast US production can ramp up. Crude oil production peaked in 1970 and by 2005 had declined by nearly half, despite the development of the Alaska oil fields. Mexico's oil production has been in free fall since 2005, while Canada's production of what is called conventional crude oil--stuff pumped out of the ground--has trended downward since 1973.
Technology is opening resources, but development will be slow under any administration. The largest slice of estimated resources waits in the Gulf of Mexico, under deep water, where bringing in a well can cost billions of dollars. The next largest resources lie offshore of Alaska, mostly in the Arctic Ocean, a peculiarly fragile environment and one where obstacles to drilling are formidable, the season short; Shell's first try has been abandoned for this year.
Accordingly, the Energy Information Administration estimates the US will import oil in 2020. Even under the most favorable assumptions--high prices and the removal of all restrictions to drilling on public lands--imports would meet 39 percent of needs, not much better than at present.
Romney's North American independence really means heavy reliance on Canadian oil sands, and that means stripping subarctic forest and emitting more carbon than is typical in oil production.
The prospects for gas are better, largely because of fracking in shale, and the US could be a net exporter by 2020. Estimated resources are more than 60 times present consumption.
But gas is still a finite resource, and present consumption will grow. Already the US is switching electrical generation from coal to gas. Besides exports, there is talk of running vehicles on compressed natural gas and of synthesizing liquid fuels, a process that wastes much of the original energy content of the gas. Pursue all those goals, and gas soon peaks.
Differences between Romney and Obama on Energy
Talking points aside, Romney and Obama do differ on energy:
- Romney would remove restrictions on drilling public lands. The main impact would be to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, provided Congress repeals a decades-old ban. The USGS estimates 7.7 billion barrels of ultimately recoverable oil lie under the refuge, another large-sounding total, but equal to US oil demand over thirteen months. In practice, production would spread over many years, little of it before 2020.
- Romney would green light drilling off the beaches of the US Atlantic coast, for the sake of tapping resources that by generous estimates equal US demand for half a year.
- Romney would sweep aside environmental impact statements and immediately issue drilling leases in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico and offshore Alaska.
- Romney promises to open up coal, but gives no details. Because he accuses Obama of trying to bankrupt the industry, presumably Romney means to repeal the carbon-emissions limits that have encouraged power plants to switch from coal to gas.
- Romney would end subsidies for renewable energy. As a reason he mouths platitudes about a level playing field, as if no tax breaks existed for fossil fuels, no government loan guarantees and liability limits for nuclear power.
- On energy efficiency, Romney's silence echoes.
On energy, whether Obama is the good guy or the lesser of two evils is up to the voter.
Dan Vasey is a home brewer and reformed academic, living in Australia and retired from teaching after stints in Colorado, Papua New Guinea and Iowa. An anthropologist and human ecologist, his research specialty has been population and agriculture. Published works include An Ecological History of Agriculture: 10,000 BC – A.D. 10,000 and scholarly articles on indigenous agriculture in Oceania and on Icelandic population history. Recently he has been an editor and writer for the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability. Construction of his website on alternative futures is behind schedule.