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The Driller in Chief

Author: Michael A. Levi, David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment and Director of the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies
March 1, 2012
Foreign Policy

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It was a strange scene even by the standards of an odd primary season. Rick Santorum, fresh off a narrow loss in Michigan, started waving about a hunk of jet-black rock during his concession speech on Tuesday night, Feb 28. "Yeah, this is oil," he explained. "Oil. Out of rock. Shale." But not under this American president. Like his fellow candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, as well as most of the fossil fuel industry, Santorum is convinced that Barack Obama is out to kill oil and natural gas. "We have a president who says no," he warned. "We need a president who says yes to the American people and energy production!"

It's a potent line in a country where many assume that Democrats despise oil and gas. Their instinct is sometimes right: There are large segments of the party that have never encountered a fossil fuel development that they liked. But Obama doesn't fit that mold. Indeed there is a strong case to be made that he, not his opponents, offers the best hope for American oil and gas.

Let's start with the statistics. After falling every year from 1991 through 2008, U.S. oil production has climbed for three years in a row. U.S. oil imports started to drop in 2005 under President George W. Bush, but Obama's policies haven't stopped the trend. Last March, Obama announced a target of cutting oil imports by a third by 2020; less than a year later, the United States is already more than halfway there. Natural gas production is also surging. The United States hit rock bottom in 2006, at which point the shale gas revolution began to re-energize the sector. That boom has continued since Obama took office. It's tough, in other words, to square claims that Obama is destroying American oil and gas with the record production numbers that the industry is posting year after year.

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