Doing the Job Media Won't: Fact-checking Obama's Gulf Spill Address

Plenty of prominent media figures were upset with President Obama over his substandard address to the nation last night (full text). While most are distraught, none seem to be doing what should be the essential journalistic task of the day: pointing out all of the factual misstatements the president made.

So, in absence of a serious attempt at fact-checking from the legacy media, let us undertake some of our own.

In all, the president misrepresented the federal government's--and especially his cabinet's--role in creating the conditions that led to the spill, the state of the nation's oil reserves, and his own administration's involvement with BP. Futhermore, his transition from discussing the Gulf spill to advocating "clean energy" legislation was a huge logical leap, and one that necessarily misrepresents the problems the nation faces with regard to energy.

The latter was perhaps the president's most subtle sleight of hand. He claimed the Gulf spill is "the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now. Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America's innovation and seize control of our own destiny."

Now, if the president had stated the spill is a reminder that the nation needs to get off of oil--that disasters like this are an unfortunate, if rare consequence of harvesting crude oil--he would have had a point. But that is not what he said. He claimed the disaster underscores the need for "clean" energy, which presumably does not include coal, the dirtiest of them all. But the Gulf spill has no bearing on coal energy.

Also intended to promote the "clean energy" cause was Obama's misleading statement that "Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be right here in America." In fact, as the Heritage Foundation notes, China "will account for nearly 45% of oil demand growth in the next five years, receives 70% of its energy from coal already, and is projected to nearly triple coal capacity by 2030."

Say what you will about clean energy or coal, but the president's advocacy of his own energy agenda despite the facts was unseemly and based on a fallacious argument.

Moving forward, Obama also misrepresented the state of the oil industry itself. He claimed that Americans "consume more than 20% of the world's oil, but have less than 2% of the world's oil reserves. And that's part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean - because we're running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water."

"This howler," writes John Hinderaker at Power Line, "is a favorite canard of Democratic politicians": 
As is so often the case, they are relying on the public's ignorance. Most people don't realize that in the U.S., oil isn't counted as part of our "reserves" unless it is legally available for drilling. Thus, ANWR, to take one of many examples, isn't counted toward the total "reserves." The U.S. government could cause our reserves to skyrocket overnight by opening new areas, on land and in shallow water, to drilling. But the U.S. is the only country in the world that has deliberately chosen not to develop its own energy resources. No one else is that dumb.
So the reason oil companies drill a mile beneath the water is not that there are not ample supplies of crude in other parts of the United States, but rather that the federal government does not permit drilling in so many of those areas.

According to Kiplinger Magazine (by way of the American Thinker), "untapped reserves are estimated at about 2.3 trillion barrels, nearly three times more than the reserves held by Organization of Petroleum Exporting Counties (OPEC) and sufficient to meet 300 years of demand-at today's levels-for auto, aircraft, heating and industrial fuel, without importing a single barrel of oil."

The misdeeds of the oil industry were, of course, a frequent refrain in the president's speech. But he also misrepresented that industry's culpability by claiming "time and again, the path forward [to further regulation] has been blocked…by oil industry lobbyists."

What the president conveniently neglected to mention, however, was that BP has been an advocate of most of his energy agenda. As the Examiner's Tim Carney reminds us:
BP "has lobbied for tax hikes, greenhouse gas restraints, the stimulus bill, the Wall Street bailout, and subsidies for oil pipelines, solar panels, natural gas and biofuels…

BP was a founding member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), a lobby dedicated to passing a cap-and-trade bill. As the nation’s largest producer of natural gas, BP saw many ways to profit from climate legislation, notably by persuading Congress to provide subsidies to coal-fired power plants that switched to gas.
Though the company left USCAP, it did not stop lobbying for cap and trade, and later "signed off" on Senate cap and trade legislation as well as explicitly lobbied for a higher gas tax. So Obama's insistence the oil industry has opposed relevant regulations tooth and nail is less than accurate.

While Obama was placing as much unearned blame at industry's feet as possible, he was also sidestepping his own administration's complicity in the crisis. He stated towards the beginning of his speech:
A few months ago, I approved a proposal to consider new, limited offshore drilling under the assurance that it would be absolutely safe –- that the proper technology would be in place and the necessary precautions would be taken.

That obviously was not the case in the Deepwater Horizon rig, and I want to know why.
Well, perhaps he should ask his cabinet members--you know, the ones he just put in charge of the new commission investigating the incident. On March 31 in a speech at Andrews Air Force Base, he told the nation that Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and climate czar Carol Browner had assured him that additional Gulf Coast drilling would be safe.

But the president of course did not put the blame at their feet. In fact, as Byron York noted:
[I]n this moment of crisis, Obama is relying on the same team that earlier gave him "the assurance that [offshore drilling] would be absolutely safe" -- advice that he now openly says was wrong. And what is the "green team" telling him now? That it is impossible to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf. Politico's Mike Allen channels West Wing thought this way: The Gulf gusher is a battle we can't win. So we had to make this tragedy about something bigger than the liveshot of spewing oil. So having surrendered on the challenge of stopping the oil, Obama tried to redirect the public's attention away from the spill and onto the political debate over a cap-and-trade bill. The short version of the strategy: Give up and change the subject. Like everything else Obama has tried so far in the Gulf crisis, it won't work.
Indeed.