FactChecking Trump's Energy Boasts

Stock SectorJune 8, 201817min5
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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.

Energy Exports

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 likely 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.” 

Federal Land

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.

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