Despite election-year rhetoric, U.S. energy booming in Obama era

Stumping in Colorado before the GOP caucuses earlier this month, Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich zeroed in on energy policy, arguing that the Obama administration is pushing an environmentally radical anti-business agenda that is bad for the economy and for national security. The speeches went over well with conservative primary voters, but mainstream reporters and analysts have a whole different take on the energy-industry “problem” facing the United States in the Obama era, one that has to do with historically booming production levels.

Speaking at an energy summit hosted by the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Santorum said that the Obama administration was leading “a war on fossil fuels” and he vowed, if he were elected, to open up more public lands to drilling.

Gingrich went further. “This is the most anti-American energy administration we have ever had,” he said, blaming Obama for high gas prices and calling the administration’s “all-of-the-above” energy plan “very dangerous and very destructive.”

Outside conservative politics circles, however, on the ground in the burgeoning gas fields above Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale formation, for example, or on the plains covering the Niobrara formation in northern Colorado and Wyoming, where big-rig oil-and-gas traffic streams over two-lane roadways, the Obama years look more like the era described recently by Bloomberg News and quoted this past Sunday by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

“The U.S. is the closest it has been in almost 20 years to achieving energy self-sufficiency… Domestic oil output is the highest in eight years. The U.S. is producing so much natural gas that, where the government warned four years ago of a critical need to boost imports, it now may approve an export terminal… The U.S. has reversed a two-decade-long decline in energy independence, increasing the proportion of demand met from domestic sources over the last six years to an estimated 81 percent through the first 10 months of 2011.”

Friedman was exploring the idea that the U.S. should adjust its trade policy to reckon with the fact that the country is producing so much energy, and using less oil as a percentage of fuel source, that it might soon land among the world’s top oil exporting nations. From that perspective, even high oil prices look like a good thing for the U.S. economy.

“This transformation could make the U.S. the world’s top energy producer by 2020,” Friedman wrote. “We could raise more [energy] tax revenue [as a result], freeing us from worrying about the Middle East, and, if we’re smart, [financing] a bridge to a much cleaner energy future.”

As the Colorado Independent has reported consistently for the last two years, oil and gas companies have leased land nationwide that they have yet to make productive and they hold thousands of unused drilling permits for sites all across the mountain west.

Likewise, in Colorado, stiffer state regulations on oil and gas production put in place by Democratic Governor Bill Ritter three years ago and attacked repeatedly by Republicans as “job killers” have not discouraged major new oil and gas drilling. Larimer and Weld Counties, for example, the counties sitting atop the Niobrara, have seen dozens of new oil and gas wells drilled in the past year or so and will see a great deal more drilled in years to come, no matter who sits in the White House or in the governor’s office.

[ Video: TCI’s Troy Hooper. Image: Riding above the Niobrara shale formation. ]

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