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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Palin Whoppers on Debt, Oil Imports

Sarah Palin made two wildly inaccurate claims on the debt accumulated under President Obama and oil imports. She wrongly said that the debt had grown more under Obama than "all those other presidents combined." She also was way off when she claimed that the U.S. is going to spend "$8 billion a day" on oil imports this year and next year to make up for declining oil production in the Gulf of Mexico. The actual amount is less than $20 million a day.

Wrong on the Debt

The former Alaska governor granted an interview to Fox News' Greta Van Susteren from her tour bus. She said about the debt:

Palin, May 31: Look at the debt that has been accumulated in the last two years. It's more debt under this president than all those other presidents combined.

The public debt on Jan. 20, 2009, when Obama took office was $6.3 trillion. So "all those other presidents combined" were responsible for $6.3 trillion in debt. Under Obama, it has grown by $3.4 trillion to $9.7 trillion, as of May 27, the most recent figures available. The debt is certainly a major issue these days — Democrats and Republicans are still wrangling over spending and the debt ceiling. But Palin is off by several trillion dollars.

Even if we look at the total outstanding debt, which includes money the government owes to itself, Obama hasn't accumulated more debt than all other presidents. Total outstanding debt was $10.6 trillion when the president was sworn in; it has increased by $3.7 trillion to $14.3 trillion.

Palin isn't the first Republican to make more of debt accumulation under Obama than the facts warrant. Two years ago, Sen. Jon Kyl made a claim similar to Palin's, saying that Obama's "budget adds more debt to our country’s future than all of the debt from 1789 when George Washington was president right up through Franklin Roosevelt and – and Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush." Wrong. The budget projected at that time showed the debt nearly doubling in 10 years. Even if the budget played out as envisioned then, the debt growth wouldn't have been particularly historic. The debt nearly doubled under Bush and nearly tripled under Reagan.

Wrong on Oil Imports

Palin also was wrong when she said that the U.S. is going to spend "$8 billion a day" on oil imports this year and next year to make up for declining oil production in the Gulf of Mexico. She's not even close. It is more like $13 million a day in 2011 and $19 million a day in 2012 — assuming oil remains at the $100-per-barrel level.

Palin made her claim while talking to Van Susteren about the moratorium on drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010. That moratorium was lifted in October, but the first deepwater permit wasn't issued until Feb. 28.

Palin, May 31: Speaking of which, Greta, look at the energy issues that must be addressed today. And we cannot keep going with the flow as we have been with a moratorium in the Gulf. And then we're told by the White House there really isn't a moratorium. Yes, there is. The impacts of that moratorium, where 97 percent of our offshore has been locked up — what we're looking at now is 157,000 barrels per day less next year, and 200,000 barrels per day less being able to be developed from the gulf the year after because the moratorium disallowed the permitting process, disallowed rigs to be able to, economically speaking, stay in the Gulf. They moved out.

So we're going to be looking at $8 billion a day that we're going to be pouring into foreign countries in order to import that make-up fuel that we're going to need to take the place of what we could have gotten out of the Gulf.

Palin's figures on Gulf oil production are slightly off, but close enough. The Energy Information Administration projects in its May monthly report on oil that Gulf production will be down 130,000 barrels per day in 2011 and 190,000 barrels per day in 2012. The EIA says decline is not only because of the moratorium, however. It is also because of "production declines in existing fields" — a natural process that occurs as oil wells are drained. (We reported at length on the impact of the moratorium on Gulf production in our article "Is Obama to Blame for $4 Gasoline.")

However, Palin's figures on the cost of importing oil to offset the lost Gulf production are way off. There is no way that the U.S. is spending or will spend $8 billion a day to make up for lost production in the Gulf. By Palin's own figures — which are slightly higher than EIA's estimates — the U.S. would be paying $15.7 million a day in 2011 and $20 million a day at $100 per barrel of oil. By the EIA's estimates, it would be closer to $13 million a day in 2011 and $19 million a day in 2012.

Perhaps Palin meant to say $8 billion a year. In that case, she would be a lot closer but still off by tens of millions of dollars. Again, using her numbers, 157,000 barrels per day in 2011 translates into an annual cost of $5.7 billion at $100 per barrel and 200,000 barrels per day would be $7.3 billion a year.

One last thing: Total net imports — that is, imports minus exports — are expected to dip slightly this year, from 9.44 million barrels per day in 2010 to 9.43 million barrels per day in 2011, the EIA says (Table 4a) in its Short-Term Energy Outlook report released in May. The long-term outlook is good, too. In the Annual Energy Outlook 2011, the EIA projects that domestic crude oil production will increase by 11 percent from 2009 to 2035 and total net imports of crude oil and petroleum products during that time will decrease by 9 percent.

–Lori Robertson and Eugene Kiely