FactChecking Trump’s Energy Boasts
At a meeting on hurricane preparedness, President Donald Trump took credit for U.S. energy production milestones that have been expected for years, and misstated the facts in the process:
- Trump said the U.S. is now “the largest energy producer in the world. Who would have thought?” The White House cited a January report by the International Energy Agency that said the U.S. could become the No. 1 crude oil producer this year. That’s not new. The IEA predicted in 2012 that the U.S. would become the No. 1 oil producer by 2017.
- Trump said that “we’re now exporting energy for the first time.” That’s false. The U.S. is not expected to become a net energy exporter until 2022. The White House said he was referring only to natural gas. The U.S. did become a net exporter of natural gas last year for the first time since 1957 — as projected by the U.S. Energy Information Administration in 2015.
At the same meeting, Trump also said the Department of Interior owns “almost half the United States.” Actually, it’s about a fifth — not one-half.
The president, who has made energy a priority for his administration, made his remarks on energy and federal land during a White House meeting on 2018 hurricane preparedness.
Trump went around the table to praise each member of his Cabinet. When he got to Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Trump made a series of boasts about U.S. energy production on the administration’s watch.
Trump, June 6: [Y]ou’re doing a fantastic job at Energy. And we’re now the largest in the world in energy, Rick. The largest in the world. And we’re now exporting energy for the first time. Never did it.
Now we’re exporting energy. But we have become the largest energy producer in the world. Who would have thought? But we’ve opened it up a little bit, Rick, right? And we’ve let our people go and do their thing.
And they’re doing a great job.
Trump repeatedly referred to “energy” when, the White House tells us, he actually meant specific types of energy. But even so, Trump’s boasts were either inaccurate or misleading.
‘Largest Energy Producer’?
By total primary energy production, China was the largest energy producer in 2015 and has been since 2008, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The EIA has international data only through 2015. But China that year was far ahead of the United States, and U.S. primary energy production was slightly lower in 2017 than it was in 2015.
(Go to the EIA link for “International Energy Statistics,” click on “select data,” and choose “primary energy” for data through 2015.
Primary energy production includes fossil fuels — petroleum, natural gas and coal — nuclear energy, and renewable sources of energy.)
It turns out, though, that Trump was not referring to all energy when he said that “we have become the largest energy producer in the world.”
The White House said the president was talking about crude oil and referred us to a Fortune magazine story about the International Energy Agency’s January Oil Market Report, which said the U.S. should overtake Saudi Arabia and perhaps Russia in 2018 to become the No. 1 crude oil producer.
“This year promises to be a record-setting one for the US. Crude production of 9.
9 mb/d [million barrels per day] is now at the highest level in nearly 50 years, putting it neck-and-neck with Saudi Arabia, the world’s second largest crude producer after Russia,” IEA said in January.
“Relentless growth should see the US hit historic highs above 10 mb/d, overtaking Saudi Arabia and rivalling Russia during the course of 2018 – provided OPEC/non-OPEC restraints remain in place.”
The U.S. has averaged more than 10 million barrels per day every week since February, according to the EIA. So the U.S. remains on pace as projected by the IEA in January. But there is no indication that it has overtaken Russia.
According to the EIA’s most current monthly crude oil production data available for top producing oil countries, Russia produced about 10.6 million barrels per day, or bpd, in February, while the U.S. produced nearly 10.3 million bpd. Saudi Arabia was third at 10.1 million bpd.
Since then, Russia reported producing 10.97 million bpd of crude oil for a third month in a row in May, while the U.S. four-week average reached a record 10.75 million bpd as of June 1.
If and when it does happen, the milestone won’t come as a surprise — as Trump implied, when he asked, “Who would have thought?” The answer is: IEA.
In its 2012 World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency said the U.S. would become the top crude oil producer by 2020, largely because of technological advances that have made hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a popular method to extract natural gas and oil from tight spaces.
IEA, World Energy Outlook, 2012: Energy developments in the United States are profound and their effect will be felt well beyond North America – and the energy sector.
The recent rebound in US oil and gas production, driven by upstream technologies that are unlocking light tight oil and shale gas resources, is spurring economic activity – with less expensive gas and electricity prices giving industry a competitive edge – and steadily changing the role of North America in global energy trade. By around 2020, the United States is projected to become the largest global oil producer. …
At a news conference in London that year, then-IEA chief economist Fatih Birol, who is now the IEA executive director, told reporters that the U.S. would become the world’s largest oil producer by 2017.
So, the U.S. is pretty much on track with IEA’s projections from six years ago.
As we’ve often noted when Barack Obama was president, the remarkable boom in U.S. oil production is chiefly the result of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing — not of any governmental policy.
“U.S. crude oil production has increased significantly over the past 10 years, driven mainly by production from tight rock formations using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing,” the EIA said in April, estimating that fracking accounted for about half of U.S. crude oil production in 2016.
There are other ways to measure energy production, and, by some measures, the U.S. became the largest producer of key energy sources years before Trump took office.
For example, EIA last year said that the U.S. has been the No. 1 producer of petroleum since 2013 and the leading producer of natural gas since 2009.
EIA, June 7, 2017: The United States has been the world’s top producer of natural gas since 2009, when U.S. natural gas production surpassed that of Russia, and it has been the world’s top producer of petroleum hydrocarbons since 2013, when its production exceeded Saudi Arabia’s.
So, the U.S. is on pace to become the No. 1 crude oil producer, as expected by the IEA since 2012. But it already had been the No. 1 producer of petroleum, which includes crude oil and petroleum products, such as gasoline.
Trump also claimed that “we’re now exporting energy for the first time.” That’s incorrect.
The EIA said in February that it expects the U.S. will be a net exporter by 2022 — a few years earlier than it had previously expected — “primarily driven by changes in petroleum and natural gas markets.”
When told about the EIA’s projections, the White House said the president was talking about natural gas. It referred us to the House Energy and Commerce Committee blog that said the U.S. in 2017 was a net exporter of natural gas for the first time since 1957. The committee blog cited the EIA.
Trump didn’t say natural gas, of course. But, even if he did, it is not the “first time” it has happened, and it was not unexpected.
In 2015, the EIA projected that the U.S. would be a net exporter of natural gas by 2017. That was the projection under EIA’s “reference case,” a most ly set of assumptions. The last time the U.S. was a net exporter of natural gas was in 1957, so Trump is wrong when he said that the U.S. “[n]ever did it.”
As he went around the table to praise his Cabinet, Trump also gave a wildly inaccurate figure for how much land the federal government owns.
The president joked that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is the “world’s largest landlord.”
“Nobody knows that. But you’re the largest — by far, the largest landlord,” Trump said. “It’s almost half the United States if you think about it. Right?”
Wrong. The Department of Interior controls less than 20 percent of land in the United States.
“The federal government owns roughly 640 million acres, about 28% of the 2.27 billion acres of land in the United States,” the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service wrote in a March 2017 report on federal land ownership. The bulk of that land is owned by the Departments of Interior, Agriculture and Defense.
Table 2 of the CRS report shows that three agencies within the Department of Interior — the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service — control about 417 million acres, which would be 18.4 percent of land in the U.S. The Interior Department’s most recent annual report puts the figure at 20 percent.
Can President Trump take credit for record US oil production?
Jul. 03 2019 — President Donald Trump’s administration has worked tirelessly to rebrand domestic energy policy in the two and a half years since he came to office.
As this White House markets it, US energy is “dominant”. Fossil fuels are not produced or exported, they’re “unleashed”. And, of course, US LNG exports have been called “molecules of US freedom”.
“The golden era of American energy is now underway,” Trump has said.
By the numbers, Trump’s time in office has been a momentous success for oil producers: since his inauguration, US crude output has surged from 9.14 million b/d to a forecasted record 12.34 million b/d in July, a 35% increase, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
By the end of next year, EIA forecasts US oil output to average 13.5 million b/d, accounting for more than 13% of total global oil supply and nearly all growth.
“American energy production is soaring to new heights thanks to President Trump’s policies,” the White House said in an official statement in May.
But how much credit can Trump claim, really, for record US oil production? Is output shattering monthly records because of Trump administration policies, or because of market fundamentals that would have boosted US oil supply no matter who occupied the White House?
Three years ago, I attempted to quantify the supply impact of the 2016 presidential election. Just how much difference would a President Clinton or President Trump make in terms of barrels per day?
Analysts I spoke with cautioned that the entire premise of the exercise was flawed. There are too many unknowns; oil prices often have little to do with who is US president; geopolitics are inherently unpredictable; and so on.
We eventually settled on a 1 million b/d net difference: If Hillary Clinton were elected, her arguably less fossil fuel-friendly policies could curb about 500,000 b/d of domestic output, while Trump’s more industry-friendly policies could cause an increase of 500,000 b/d. All things being equal, which, of course, they were not.
That possibly over-simplistic forecast was ultimately proven correct. Or wildly incorrect. It’s an unknown and will remain so.
In reality, US crude production has jumped by 3.2 million b/d since Trump became president. So, how much did he have to do with that?
Steady oil prices
Trump’s presidency may have benefited from good timing with respect to the oil market cycle. In the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election, US output had fallen to about 8.5 million b/d, down about 1.1 million b/d from April 2015 after Brent spot prices cratered at just above $26/b.
Trump’s first two and a half years in office also took place amid comparatively stable oil prices, with Brent prices remaining between about $44/b and $86/b, a $42/b range.
During Obama’s first two and a half years, prices fell nearly to $39/b and climbed to almost $127/b, an $88/b range. US oil output was also relatively flat during that time, and remained globally insignificant, increasing from about 5.
14 million b/d in January 2009 to 5.43 million b/d in July 2012.
In addition, the policy the industry lobbied the most for, and which is often pointed to as a clear factor behind record production, was the end of US restrictions on crude oil exports, which Obama signed into law in December 2015.
The US set a monthly record in February when it shipped out 2.99 million b/d of crude, according to EIA. Weekly data shows that US exports have since crossed the 3 million b/d mark, climbing as high as 3.7 million b/d in mid-June.
Industry lobbyists say other Trump administration policies, such as repeals of Obama-era environmental and safety regulations, have not had any significant impact on supply. Some of these repeals have been tied up in litigation and are ly to remain so for years.
Trump’s approval of the Dakota Access oil pipeline may have been a factor in helping North Dakota break production records, climbing above 1.4 million b/d in December, but that is a somewhat modest jump of about 173,250 b/d from the highs reached when Obama was in office.
In addition, Trump’s approval of Keystone XL remains in litigation and a federal court decision caused his Interior Department to indefinitely shelve plans to drill in nearly all federal waters, from the Atlantic Coast to the Arctic.
The administration’s plans to offer oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge also face a ly legal challenge.
Go deeper: Podcast – US oil industry’s upstream push in eastern Gulf
Part of the reason neither Trump, nor any US president, can claim much credit for oil output, at least in recent history, is that so much of production takes place on private and state lands.
The number of federal oil and gas leases in effect has fallen steadily over the past decade: from about 53,400 leases in fiscal 2009 to about 38,150 in fiscal 2018, according to the US Bureau of Land Management.
The number of producing leases, however, has grown slightly: from about 22,600 producing leases in fiscal 2009 to over 24,000 in fiscal 2018, according to BLM.
Foreign policy and oil supply
While the Trump administration typically touts a deregulatory agenda as bolstering US energy production, analysts see Trump’s foreign policy as having the most direct impact, mainly through sanctions that have caused a loss of barrels on the world market, a gap US producers are eager to fill.
Venezuela, which was producing 2 million b/d when Trump took office, produced about 730,000 b/d in May, according to EIA. While US sanctions have certainly contributed to that decline, the Trump administration has repeatedly tried to distance the role that sanctions have played in the collapse.
As tensions have flared, Iran output has fallen from 3.8 million b/d to about 2.3 million b/d over the same time period, and analysts believe Iran’s oil exports may have fallen as low as 800,000 in May, from about 1.7 million b/d in March. The US reimposed sanctions on Iranian oil exports in November and allowed waivers to some of Iran’s biggest crude and condensate buyers to expire in May.
US producers have also benefited from the agreement between OPEC and other producers to cut about 1.2 million b/d. Trump is unly to be able to take credit for that after pressing the Saudi to boost output, in order to prevent his sanctions actions from causing a spike in gasoline prices.
So, is the “golden era” of American energy underway, as Trump claims? Maybe, but it may remain unclear how much he had to do with it.