Obama's Oil Tale Wrong on Timing; Today's Government Would Have Stopped What He Described

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In addition to his abuse of the word "exploration" and his false claim that he has "often said" that he supports additional drilling for oil and natural gas within the U.S. and off its shores, President 'Prompter Barack Obama misstated the timing of his tale of a pioneering oil man by a "only" a century (picture at right is from "The Story of Oil in Pennsylvania").

Beyond that, his fond recounting of the history of Pennsylvania's first meaningful oil discovery ignores the likelihood that if the regulatory regime in place today had been around at the time, not a single drop of oil might have made it to any kind of marketplace.

Here, from a transcript of his speech Wednesday in Newton, Iowa, is Obama's recitation of the story of Edwin Drake (bolds are mine):

Think about it: Roughly a century and a half ago, in the late 1950s [sic], the Seneca Oil Co. hired an unemployed train conductor named Edwin Drake to investigate the oil springs of Titusville, Pa. Around this time, oil was literally bubbling up from the ground -- but nobody knew what to do with it. It had limited economic value, and often all it did was ruin crops or pollute drinking water.

Now, people were starting to refine oil for use as fuel. Collecting oil remained time-consuming, though, and it was back- breaking, and it was costly. It wasn't efficient, as workers harvested what they could find in the shallow ground. They had to literally scoop it up.

But Edwin Drake had a plan. He purchased a steam engine and he built a derrick and he began to drill.

And months passed. And progress was slow. The team managed to drill into the bedrock just a few feet each day -- each day. And crowds gathered and they mocked Mr. Drake. They thought him and the other diggers were foolish.

The well that they were digging even earned the nickname, "Drake's Folly." But Drake wouldn't give up. And he had an advantage: total desperation. It had to work. And then, one day, it finally did.

One morning, the team returned to the creek to see crude oil rising up from beneath the surface. And soon, Drake's well was producing what was then an astonishing amount of oil, perhaps 10, 20 barrels every day.

And then speculators followed and they built similar rigs, as far as the eye could see. In the next decade, the area would produce tens of millions of barrels of oil.

And as the industry grew, so did the ingenuity of those who sought to profit from it, as competitors developed new techniques to drill and transport oil to drive down costs and gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Now, our history is filled with such stories, stories of daring talent, of dedication to an idea even when the odds were great, of the unshakable belief that, in America, all things are possible.

Now of course, 1-1/2 centuries ago was the late 1850s, not 1950s. But I haven't seen the establishment media call any attention to Obama's latest teleprompter-driven gaffe (someone who was thinking while speaking instead of simply reading from a script might have caught the error and corrected it on the fly), and I don't expect them to.

But more importantly, if the regulatory regime built over the past 75-plus years had been around at the time, it would probably have prevented Mr. Drake from drilling in the first place. The EPA would have found a few puddles in the area, called them untouchable "navigable waters," and prohibited any kind of development in a many square-mile area.

If he had somehow been allowed to continue, safety inspectors would have forced Drake to buy all kinds of safety equipment for the workers who were scooping up oil in shallow ground, and subjected him to harassing OSHA inspections.

Environmental and NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) purists would have forced him though noise-reduction regulations to use slower and less efficient drilling methods.

When the oil started bubbling up, the Justice Department, at EPA's prodding, would have prosecuted Drake for ruining crops and polluting drinking water, and class-action lawyers would have sued him on behalf of all farmers and residents in the path of the related aquifer.

If they had by some miracle allowed him to continue, Congress and the Pennsylvania legislature would have demanded royalties, income and property taxes, forcing Drake to charge at least twice as much to make a profit, thereby slowing the acceptance of oil as a viable fuel for decades, and similarly holding back the country's advancement into the Industrial Age.

Other readers can probably come up with other indignities Mr. Drake would have had to endure. Suffice it to say that it would not have been pretty. Obama's contemporaries would more than likely have made Edwin Drake's efforts impossible.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.