More Pa. Town Hall Obamabsurdity: Three Media-Ignored Misleads on Oil Reserves and Production

Reasonably astute readers will catch the falsehoods and fallacies inherent in the following statement made by President Obama last Wednesday at the town hall meeting held in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania:

But here’s the thing about oil. We have about 2, maybe 3 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves; [1] we use 25 percent of the world’s oil. [2] So think about it. Even if we doubled the amount of oil that we produce, we’d still be short by a factor of five. [3]

The average Associated Press or other establishment media apparatchik following Obama around as he embarks on his 19-month reelection campaign has apparently given these statements little if any thought, simply assuming that they're "obviosuly" true. Each of the President's three key number-tagged assertions is either demonstrably false or seriously misleading. Each is badly in need of a specific refutation.

[1] -- "We have about 2, maybe 3 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves."

The President is wrong on this one, but in a direction that would appear to reinforce his ultimate point. The 2010 CIA Factbook, which is based on data as of the end of 2009, says that proven reserves in the U.S. amount to 19.12 billion barrels. Wikipedia's related link calculates the percentage of worldwide proven reserves correctly at 1.37%, which places the U.S. fourteenth in the world. The proven reserves figure is lower than the 22.3 billion barrels published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) in November 2010. The higher figure only changes the worldwide share to about 1.6%.

But Jeff Dunetz at BigGovernment.com (and many others, I'm sure) points out that proven reserves is not the correct frame of reference in measuring truly available resources:

The number is America’s proven reserves where we are already drilling. It does not include the 10 billion barrels available in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It does not include most of the 86 billion barrels available offshore in the Outer Continental Shelf, most of which President Obama has placed under an executive drilling ban. And it does not include the 800 billion barrels of oil we have locked in shale in Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado. Those shale resources alone are actually three times larger than the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia, so the claim that the U.S. only has 2% of the world’s oil is clearly false.

In the sense that Obama defenders can say "Well, he was talking about proven reserves," Obama is technically correct. But in context, Obama is trying to convince Americans that the rest of the world has 30-50 times more oil than we do and that we therefore can't possibly produce our way out of our current situation. That just isn't so, especially when one realizes that the correct figure for shale oil alone may be more like 2.5 trillion barrels instead of Dunetz's 800 billion barrels (though I'm not clear on its degree of recoverability).

[2] -- "We use 25 percent of the world’s oil."

That was the big campaign theme in 2008, wasn't it? We have only 5% of the population greedily burning through 25% of the world's oil. It's just so unfair.

Well, the percentage has gone down:

  • An article at Ritholtz.com berates the U.S. for consuming 25% of the world's oil production. But the actual numbers on the map shows the U.S. consuming 18.686 million barrels a day, with the world consuming 84.077 million. Uh, that's actually 22.2%. These numbers agree to those found in a spreadsheet I found at BP's web site here.
  • 2010 U.S. consumption averaged about 19.145 million barrels today, per Table 4A at the EIA's March 2011 Short-Term Energy Outlook (large PDF). Table 3A at the same link shows worldwide consumption as average of 87.18 million barrels during 2010. U.S. consumption was 21.96% of worldwide consumption.
  • From the same report as in the previous bullet, project 2011 U.S. daily consumption is 19.28 million barrels. Worldwide, it's 88.2 million. That works out to 21.86%.

All three percentages are closer to 20% than 25%, eliminating any potential "well, we were just rounding up" excuse. The President, who is supposed to be up on these things, doesn't get the benefit of the doubt on this one. He's relying on old data, and should stop using the 25% canard; the press should stop assuming the canard is true.

[3] -- "Even if we doubled the amount of oil that we produce, we’d still be short by a factor of five."

This is by far the biggest howler of the bunch, and is easily disproven.

Obama's math-challenged calculation simply multiplies the proven reserves number of "2%-3%" by two to arrive at roughly 5%, and then claims that this result is only one-fifth of our 25% share of world consumption. Thus, we're supposedly "short by a factor of five."

Lord have mercy. Let's look at some real numbers:

  • As seen above, our 2009 daily consumption was 18.686 million barrels. A preliminary EIA document for that year which likely changed very little indicates that our daily production was 5.31 million barrels. Double that to 10.62 million a day, and we're short by a factor of 1.76 (18.686 divided by 10.62). That's nowhere near in the neighborhood of five.
  • The EIA report previously cited says that our 2010 daily consumption was the 19.145 million barrels a day seen above, and that our daily production per Table 1 was 5.51 million daily barrels. Double that to 11.02 million a day, and we're short by a factor of 1.74 (19.145 divided by 11.02). That's also nowhere near five.
  • The EIA report also estimates that our 2011 daily consumption will be the 19.28 million barrels seen above, and that our daily production will come in at 5.40 million daily barrels. Double that to 10.80 million a day, and we're short by a factor of 1.79 (19.28 divided by 10.80). Again, that's nowhere near five, but the administration is slowly but surely working on getting it there. 2012 production is predicted to drop another 2% or so to 5.27 million barrels a day.

Bottom line: Obama is wrong, by a factor of almost three (2009 - 2.84; 2010 - 2.87; 2011 - 2.79).

Frankly, the problem isn't that we're consuming more than our "fair share" of the world's energy. It's that we're not producing energy at an easily achievable level, making this country perhaps the only civilization ever on planet earth to proactively choose not to exploit the God-given resources provided to sustain and grow its economy. We are paying dearly for taking this course.

Barack Obama and his administration want Americans to think we can't produce the fossil fuel we need, that we can't afford to keep importing it, and that we must therefore bet the farm on unproven (and in certain cases, disproven) renewables to have any chance at all of avoiding an energy resource calamity. This is irresponsible, clearly media-assisted horse manure.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

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