A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Energetically Wrong

Palin says Alaska supplies 20 percent of U.S. energy. Not true. Not even close.


Summary

Palin claims Alaska "produces nearly 20 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of energy." That’s not true.

Alaska did produce 14 percent of all the oil from U.S. wells last year, but that’s a far cry from all the "energy" produced in the U.S.

Alaska’s share of domestic energy production was 3.5 percent, according to the official figures kept by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

And if by "supply" Palin meant all the energy consumed in the U.S., and not just produced here, then Alaska’s production accounted for only 2.4 percent.

Analysis

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin sat down with ABC News’ Charlie Gibson for an interview, part of which aired Sept. 11. In the exchange, the Alaska governor misstated a basic fact about her state’s energy production:

Palin: Let me speak specifically about a credential that I do bring to this table, Charlie, and that’s with the energy independence that I’ve been working on for these years as the governor of this state that produces nearly 20 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of energy, that I worked on as chairman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, overseeing the oil and gas development in our state to produce more for the United States.

It’s simply untrue that Alaska produces anything close to 20 percent of the U.S. "energy supply," a term that is generally defined as energy consumed. That category includes power produced in the U.S. by nuclear, coal, hydroelectric dams and other means – as well as all the oil imported into the country.

Palin would have been correct to say that Alaska produces just over 14 percent of all the oil produced in the U.S., leaving out imports and leaving out other forms of power. According to the federal government’s Energy Information Administration, Alaskan wells produced 263.6 million barrels of oil in 2007, or 14.3 percent of the total U.S. production of 1.8 billion barrels.

But Alaskan production accounts for only 4.8 percent of all the crude oil and petroleum products supplied to the U.S. in 2007, counting both domestic production and imports from other nations. According to EIA, the total supply was just over 5.5 billion barrels in 2007.

Furthermore, Palin said "energy," not "oil," so she was actually much further off the mark. According to EIA, Alaska actually produced 2,417.1 trillion BTUs [British Thermal Units] of energy in 2005, the last year for which full state numbers are available. That’s equal to just 3.5 percent of the country’s domestic energy production.

And according to EIA analyst Paul Hess, that would calculate to only "2.4 percent of the 100,368.6 trillion BTUs the U.S. consumes."

Palin didn’t make clear whether she was talking about Alaska’s share of all the energy produced in the U.S. or all the energy consumed here. Either way, she was wrong.

McCain Gets It Wrong, Too

Sen. John McCain has also has used this inflated, incorrect figure. On Sept. 3, McCain told ABC News’ Gibson:

McCain: Well, I think Americans are going to be very, very, very pleased. This is a very dynamic person. [Palin’s] been governor of our largest state, in charge of 20 percent of America’s energy supply.

McCain repeated the false figure more recently, in a September 11 interview with Portland, Maine, news station WCSH6.

Footnote:  When we asked the McCain campaign where the 20 percent figure came from, we were referred to the Web site of the Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc, a group that says it promotes development of Alaska’s natural resources. It states:

Alaska Resource Development Council: Alaska’s oil and gas industry has produced more than 16 billion barrels of oil and 6 billion cubic feet of natural gas, accounting for an average of 20 percent of the entire nation’s domestic production.

This falls far short of supporting Palin’s sweeping claim, however. It refers only to "oil and gas" production, not total energy. It refers only to production, not total consumption or supply. And the 20 percent figure is an "average" over many years, though the site does not say exactly how many. That makes it very much out of date, because Alaskan oil production has declined sharply in recent years. According to EIA figures Alaskan oil production has dropped 22 percent in the most recent five years alone.

And in case you are wondering, Alaska produces even less of the nation’s natural gas than it does of its oil.  EIA figures show Alaska accounted for just 1.9 percent of total U.S. natural gas production during the six months ending June 2008. And even that is dropping rapidly. The figure was 2.3 percent just two years earlier.

Update, Sept. 16: The Washington Post’s Fact Checker reports that Palin has modified her claim, saying at a campaign appearance Sept. 15 that she oversees "20 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of oil and gas." That’s still wrong. The Fact Checker points out the correct number is 7.4 percent, according to EIA. See our post on The FactCheck Wire for more.

Update, Sept. 17: The Associated Press, in reporting on Palin’s "inflated" energy claim, contacted the Alaska Resource Development Council and confirmed that its 20 percent figure is badly out of date. It quoted Carl Portman, the group’s deputy director, as saying that the figure is an average for the decades of the 1980s and 1990s, which The AP noted was "long before Palin became governor at the end of 2006." Portman was quoted as saying his group "planned to update the site to make it more clear that the 20 percent figure is over a period of time."

And indeed, when we checked, the Web page had been changed to say that the state’s oil and gas industry accounted "for an average of 20 percent of the entire nation’s domestic production (1980 – 2000). Currrently, Alaska accounts for nearly 15% of U.S. production." Even that 15 percent figure, however, is higher than the official statistics kept by the federal government, as we have already noted.

Also, in response to questions from some readers, we have written a post on The FactCheck Wire that explains our methodology.

–-by Justin Bank

Sources

Milkowski, Stefan. "One Year Later, Palin Making Progress in Role of Governor," The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. 4 December 2007.

 

 

 

 

Gibson, Charlie. "Gibson Interviews John McCain," ABC News. 3 Sept 2008.

Gibson, Charlie. "Gibson Interviews Sarah Palin," ABC News. 11 Sept 2008.

Caldwell, Rob. "News Center Interviews John McCain," WCSH6 NBC Portland.