Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Fact-Checking Obama’s Oil Speech

In his June 15 speech to the nation on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, President Barack Obama overstated some things, including how quickly he assembled a government team to work with BP. Here are some statements that we found to be less than accurate.

Administration Response

In explaining the administration’s response to the oil spill, Obama said "just after the rig sank, I assembled a team of our nation’s best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge — a team led by Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and our nation’s secretary of energy." It was not "just after the rig sank," but rather 20 days after the April 20 explosion when Obama announced he would dispatch a team, headed by Chu, to meet with BP officials in Houston. The president asked Chu to head the team at a Cabinet meeting on May 10.

Deepwater Drilling Moratorium

The president said, “Already, I’ve issued a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling.” That’s true, but the moratorium only applies to new permits for deepwater drilling, and production from existing deepwater wells will continue. A Department of Interior press release on June 8 explained that “shallow water drilling operations and production activity in both deep and shallow waters are not under a moratorium and will continue, provided they are in compliance with the new safety requirements."

Oil Imports Not ‘Nearly $1 Billion’

The president said, "Each day, we send nearly $1 billion of our wealth to foreign countries for their oil." That was true in 2008, when the price of oil was higher, but it hasn’t been true lately. Net oil imports for the U.S. in March were 9,480,000 barrels per day and the average cost per barrel was $75. Total cost: $711 million per day, not "nearly $1 billion."

However, the president slightly understated total U.S. oil consumption. He said, "We consume more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves." According to the Energy Information Administration, world petroleum production averaged 84,158,559 barrels per day in 2009. And U.S. petroleum consumption averaged 18,686,223 barrels per day. That’s actually 22.2 percent.

He is right about our low percentage of the world’s oil reserves. The EIA stated that the U.S. has 21.317 billion barrels of "proved reserves" while the global total is 1,342.207 billion barrels. That figures to just under 1.6 percent.

by Brooks Jackson, Michael Morse and Joshua Goldman