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Debate fact check: Romney stumbles on energy

In Tuesday's presidential debate, energy and energy policy came up repeatedly. At several points, Mitt Romney was right on energy facts but wrong on the context.   

By Staff writer / October 17, 2012

President Obama (L) looks over at Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the second US presidential campaign debate in Hempstead, N.Y., Oct. 16, 2012. The two candidates sparred over energy policy several times, with a debate fact check showing the president having the edge in presenting facts in context.

Jim Young/Reuters


When energy policy took the floor on Tuesday night's presidential debate, the sparks began to fly. President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney sparred over oil production on public lands and the factors behind the rise in gasoline during the president's first term.  

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But somewhere between the one-liners and the verbal counterpunches, the facts and the context behind them got bruised (as they often do in presidential debates). On energy, at least, they seemed more abused by the challenger than the incumbent.

Start with Mr. Romney's charge about oil and gas production on federal land.

Romney: "As a matter of fact, oil production is down 14 percent this year on federal land, and gas production was down 9 percent. Why? Because the president cut in half the number of licenses and permits for drilling on federal lands and in federal waters."

Obama: "Very little of what Governor Romney just said is true. We've opened up public lands. We're actually drilling more on public lands than in the previous administration and my — the previous president was an oilman."

The facts Romney quotes are correct, as far as they go. Oil sales on federal lands did fall 14 percent between 2010 and 2011. But the main driver wasn't the administration's leasing policy. It was Mr. Obama's temporary moratorium on offshore drilling after the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The president is closer to the truth when he says there's more oil drilling on public lands during his administration. Oil production on those lands is up 13 percent since he took office and is now climbing back to pre-spill levels.

Romney is also correct on the decline in natural gas production and wrong on the context. Gas production has been falling for years because new technology has made it cheaper to drill on private land in Pennsylvania, North Dakota, and elsewhere.

The candidates also argued about gasoline prices.

Romney: "The proof of whether a strategy is working or not is what the price is that you're paying at the pump. If you're paying less than you paid a year or two ago, why, then, the strategy is working. But you're paying more. When the president took office, the price of gasoline here in Nassau County was about $1.86 a gallon. Now, it's $4 a gallon. The price of electricity is up. If the president's energy policies are working, you're going to see the cost of energy come down."

Obama: "Think about what the governor just said. He said when I took office, the price of gasoline was $1.80, $1.86. Why is that? Because the economy was on the verge of collapse, because we were about to go through the worst recession since the Great Depression, as a consequence of some of the same policies that Governor Romney’s now promoting."


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