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Presidential debate 101: In oil drilling spat, did Obama make his best case?

A tense exchange between Romney and Obama on oil drilling was perhaps the most contentious of the second presidential debate. Here's a look at what was said, and whether it was accurate.

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How about Obama’s contention that oil production has risen while he has been president?

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That is true.

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), domestic production of oil, as of this month, is up by 26.4 percent over the end of President Bush’s term.

But Romney kept repeating that production was down this year on federal lands. “Production on government land of oil is down 14 percent,” he repeated over and over again.

Romney’s assertion is partly true, but from 2010 to 2011, not this year. According to the EIA, production of oil on federal and American Indian lands dropped 12.5 percent in that time period.

Natural gas production was off 11 percent, higher than the 9 percent claimed by Romney. However, production of natural gas in total was up 7 percent in 2011 from 2010 as companies drilled wells on private land in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and North Dakota. Since Obama became president, natural gas production is up 12 percent.

“Does it really matter whether it comes from federal lands or not?” asks Ms. Jaffe. She says the bigger question is whether or not the industry has access to drill for new oil. And the answer, she says, is yes. “They are drilling the daylights out of the land.”

If Romney were president, he said he would make the US “North American energy” independent within eight years.

Is that possible?

Currently, the US imports between 8 and 9 million barrels of oil per day.

Jaffe estimates the US could increase oil production from shale, offshore oil production, and some formations in Texas, Florida, Ohio, and western Pennsylvania. If all of those got drilled she says it seems reasonable that the US could increase production by 3 to 5 million barrels of oil per day “if nothing goes wrong.”

In addition, she can envision another 1 million to 2 million barrels of oil per day coming to the US from Canada.

Add in higher fuel efficiency standards for vehicles in the US, which were just raised by Obama and opposed by Romney. By 2025, the new standards mandate that an automobile manufacturer’s entire fleet averages 54.5 miles per gallon. That saves another 3 million to 5 million barrels of oil per day.

So, with increased oil production and better fuel standards, the US might not need to import oil from outside of North America. “But, we are talking 2025,” says Jaffe. “Not when these two men will be president.”

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