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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

McConnell Misreads Oil Report

Mitch McConnell incorrectly claimed that oil production is “up 96 percent on state-owned land and private land,” which isn’t close to being true. Production rose 11 percent on those lands in fiscal year 2011, the period to which McConnell alluded. Even over the last five fiscal years, the rise has been 15 percent — not even one-sixth as large as he claimed.

The Senate Republican Leader’s flub occurred on CNN’s “State of the Union” April 1. He said:

McConnell, April 1: What [Obama] ought to do is increase public production on public land. Land in federal — within the federal jurisdiction, production is down 14 percent. He points, however, to increased production that he had nothing to do with. It’s up 96 percent on state owned land and private land. The president simply is standing in the way of increasing domestic production.

McConnell got one thing right — production on federal lands fell by 14 percent in fiscal year 2011 (after a 15 percent increase the year before). But overall, oil production on federal lands saw an increase of 1 percent during the last five fiscal years.

McConnell used figures from a Congressional Research Service report on the subject. CRS said that — counting both federal and non-federal lands — total U.S. oil production went up by 530,000 barrels per day between fiscal year 2007 and fiscal year 2011, and added: “About 96% of the increase since 2007 took place on non-federal lands.” But that’s a far cry from saying production rose 96 percent; it didn’t. It just rose much more on non-federal lands than on federal lands during that period.

McConnell spokesman Don Stewart told us the senator meant to say what the report said — that 96 percent of the increase is on non-federal lands. “He’s making the point that the increase was all on lands that the president had nothing to do with, which is what he said in the sentence leading up to [the 96 percent figure],” Stewart said.

Not the Whole Story

McConnell referenced another CRS report on the program but failed to offer the full picture of the report’s conclusion. The senator said CRS found that raising taxes on oil production will cause gas prices to rise. That’s true — but CRS said the increase would likely be on a “small scale.”

McConnell: The Congressional Research Service, which is not a polling organization, but which analyzes objectively legislation, says if you raise taxes on oil production, the price of gas at the pump goes even higher.

As we’ve written before, the CRS examined proposals in Obama’s 2012 budget that would have repealed tax breaks and made other changes resulting in a $46.2 billion tax hike (page 147) on the energy industry over 10 years. The president’s proposed budget (see page 3) for fiscal year 2013 contains similar provisions, although the tax hike is smaller at $30 billion over 10 years. The report on Obama’s 2012 budget said:

CRS, March 2011: On what would likely be a small scale, the proposals also would make oil and natural gas more expensive for U.S. consumers and likely increase foreign dependence.

Keystone Revisited

McConnell also repeated the false claim that Obama is blocking the Keystone XL Pipeline.

McConnell: What the president ought to be doing is approving the Keystone pipeline. This is this massive private sector project that will bring energy down from our friendly neighbor, Canada, to the United States. He’s blocking it.

But, as we’ve written before, Obama hasn’t blocked the pipeline. Keystone’s sponsor says it expects the White House to approve the northern leg, from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska, in 2013, after it submits an application for a new route around Nebraska’s environmentally sensitive Sandhills region. Meanwhile, it is going ahead with the southern portion, which Obama has endorsed, ordering agencies to expedite permitting.

Stewart, the McConnell spokesman, insisted that the president is indeed blocking the Keystone project. He referred us to the president’s statement in which he said he agreed with the State Department recommendation “that the application be denied.” But the president also said in his statement that he denied the permit because “the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact.”

The fact is, as we mentioned earlier, the company plans to submit a new application later this year and gain approval in early 2013.

— Ben Finley