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Under FactCheck’s Hood: A Note on Methodology for our Palin – 20% Energy Piece

Last Friday, we pointed out that a Palin-McCain talking point stating that Alaska “produces nearly 20 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of energy” was false. The actual figure was 3.5 percent.

Within the story, we allowed (several times) that Palin and McCain may have misspoken and meant to say “oil” instead of “energy,” or “production” instead of “supply.” We ran the calculations and found that they were still off. Keeping with our standards of transparency and accountability, we linked to sources throughout. And true to form, scores of our inquisitive readers (maybe even you) clicked through and took the time to write in and question our calculations. Some asked if we had included offshore production. (The short answer is yes.)

For those who are interested, we offer an in-depth look at how we calculated energy statistics from the data files of the Energy Information Administration. Daunting? Probably not. Tedious? Maybe a little. But if you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to go a bit further …

In the story, we said that Alaskan wells produced 14.3 percent of domestic crude oil and linked to the corresponding table from the EIA here. Many people went to that chart and noticed that there was a separate listing for state offshore production that said Alaskan output was 91,824,000 barrels. Many then questioned whether those barrels were included in Alaska’s South Alaska and North Slope categories, which showed a total of 263,595,000 barrels for the state. (You’ll understand what we’re describing here if you look at the chart.) We had the same question when we were researching the piece. So we asked an EIA analyst, who said that the offshore barrels were included in the state totals.

But don’t take our word for it: You can go to the page and do your own math by adding up the totals for all five PADD (Petroleum Administration for Defense Districts) areas to find that they equal the U.S. total oil production.

PADD 1: 7,703

PADD 2: 171,521

PADD 3: 1,032,088

PADD 4: 131,716

PADD 5: 505,423

Total: 1,848,450

(numbers are in thousands)

And that’s how we found that: “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.”

And while we’re here, some people took issue with this line from our story:

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.

As one reader put it:

Supply means supply and consume means demand, the opposite side of the equation.

That’s applying the definition of economic terms to the way EIA tracks energy. An analyst also told us that “energy supply” is defined as “energy consumed” at the EIA. Besides, we also looked at the number for domestic energy produced, and Palin’s remark is still wrong. Our article said:

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.”