Obama on U.S. oil production: You're welcome, America

This would be like Mitch McConnell trying to take credit for the Iran nuclear deal because, after all, it happened while he was in charge in the Senate.

With one key difference: Who the hell would want to take credit for the Iran nuclear deal?

It’s true that American oil production exploded during Obama’s presidency. It is not true, of course, that that was due to Obama being a stalwart advocate for oil production. This is the same guy who famously said early in his presidency about rising gas prices that we couldn’t just “drill our way” out of the problem. Spoiler: We drilled our way out of it. And when you dig into the numbers on how all of that oil from 2009 to 2017 was produced, you notice something.

But I think the other reason President Obama doesn’t spend more time beating the drum on this crude oil production surge is that it is readily apparent that it happened despite his administration, and not because of it. President Obama coincidentally happened to enter office just as the shale oil boom in the U.S. was getting started.

In fact, the vast majority of the increase in U.S. oil production occurred on private land. On land that the U.S. government controls, it was a different story. The EIA reported in 2015 that while U.S. oil and gas production overall were surging, production of natural gas on federal lands was declining. Oil production is at about the same level as it was during his first year in office…

Not until Trump was sworn in did production on federally owned lands take off.

Obama does deserve credit for agreeing to lift the decades-old ban on crude oil exports, and it’s true that he could have regulated the industry more heavily than he did. He’s an ideologue but not so much of one that he was willing to handcuff oil production upon taking power in 2009, at the height of the most ferocious economic downturn in 75 years. That’s true of a lot of Obama policies in hindsight, in fact: As much as he wanted to move the country left, he wasn’t as radical about it as the new crop of progressive-approved presidential contenders. He signed DACA but he didn’t “abolish ICE.” He passed health-care reform but it was a reform that enriched the private insurance industry, not one that blew it up like “Medicare for all.” He restricted fracking but he didn’t move to ban the process entirely. Thanking him for the U.S. oil boom is basically thanking him for not being Bernie Sanders.

What makes it so weird to see him seek credit, of course, is that for eight years he was the country’s most famous proponent of climate-change initiatives. He signed the Paris Accord, he championed green energy, he fought the Keystone Pipeline, he warned about the environmental threat from fossil fuels at every opportunity. When he nudges the audience here about oil production taking off on his watch, it amounts to him admitting either that he wasn’t as effective in advancing his agenda as he may once have hoped to be or that he wasn’t as serious about advancing it as he often sounded. I mean this only half-jokingly: It’d be like watching him take credit, in all apparent earnestness, for the boom in gun sales during his presidency. As with oil production, plenty of Americans think that’s a good thing. And as with oil production, Obama wasn’t as aggressive legislatively as he might have been in curbing it. But taking credit for it would be odd, to put it mildly, given his hostility to it. It was an “in spite of him” phenomenon, not a “thanks to him” one.

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