Fact-checking Michele Bachmann on energy

Rep. Michelle Bachmann accused President Barack Obama of "strangling" the U.S. energy sector, and blamed him for putting domestic sources of energy production off-limits.

On CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, the Minnesota Republican and presidential candidate maintained an earlier campaign promise that, if elected, she would get the price of a gallon of gas below $2, as it was when Mr. Obama took office.

The average gallon of gas as of August 29, 2011 was $3.62.

When asked by host Bob Schieffer how she might reduce gas prices to such a degree, Bachmann responded, "By embarking on an all-of-the-above energy strategy."

"What the president has been doing is strangling the United States energy sector. The good news is, Bob - that many Americans still don't know - is that the United States is the number one energy resource-rich nation in the world. We have 25 percent of all the coal in the world. One of the largest natural gas finds. Trillions of cubic feet of natural gas was recently discovered in Pennsylvania. Of course from ANWR to the East Gulf region to the Atlantic, and Pacific we have billions of barrels of oil. The president has put all of that off-limits."

She said the President's moratorium on off-shore drilling has "devastated the energy industry in the United States."

"I want to do what House Republicans have been talking for a long time, that is embrace an all-of-the-above energy solution so that we can be our own answer. We all realize we can no longer be dependent on foreign sources of oil and energy. Let's have our solution home-grown. Millions of high-paying jobs. That will change our economy.

"But with the president's direction on the EPA, that's not possible. Let's embark on a pro-growth policy."

Bachmann's statement, "The day that [Obama] became president gasoline was $1.79 a gallon. Look at what it is today," implies a causality between the chief executive and pump prices set by oil companies.

The average price of a gallon of gasoline varies during a president's term according to many market factors. For example, during President Clinton's two terms average weekly gasoline prices ranged from a low of $0.88 per gallon to $1.66, according to the Department of Energy.

Under President George W. Bush, prices ranged from a low of $1.04 to $4.05 per gallon.

Oil resources

In terms of the United States being the number one energy resource-rich nation, it is when measuring all fossil fuels cumulatively, but its riches lie mainly in coal. It falls behind in oil - the primary determinant in pump prices.

According to the Energy Information Administration, in 2009 the U.S. actually had 1.5 percent of global petroleum reserves, ranking 12th among nations.

Bachmann supports the development of drilling for fossil fuels in shale deposits ("fracking"), and told a Greenville, N.C. audience last month that the potential of oil development from shale in Western states could outstrip Saudi petroleum resources.

A 2008 report by the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that "unconventional" oil resources (as opposed to "conventional" petroleum, as found in Saudi Arabia and other sources of U.S. imports) was technically recoverable in the Bakken Formation in North Dakota and Montana, but it was much more expensive and technically complex to extract.

If they were to be exploited, it is unclear how the price of domestic gasoline would fall below current levels, as predicted by Bachmann.

USGS also put the amount of "technically recoverable oil" at 3.65 billion barrels, which is still less than Saudi Arabia's annual output of approx. 4.6 billion barrels.

Off-limits

After initially announcing his administration would expand drilling in areas along the U.S. coast, Mr. Obama reversed himself and imposed a temporary moratorium on deepwater offshore drilling following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It was knocked down by a federal judge. The Department of the Interior subsequently issued a new moratorium pending improved safety practices.

The Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association reported that the moratorium meant 80,000 barrels of oil a day were not produced - which represents less than one percent of the 11.7 million barrels imported each day by the United States.

An area that has been off-limits to energy exploration - since the time of President Eisenhower - is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), a pristine area in northern Alaska which became a federally protected area in 1960.

Since the 1970s energy companies have sought to drill there. The Reagan administration proposed opening the site up to oil exploitation, but faced opposition from Democrats in Congress. In 1995 when Republicans controlled Congress, a bill that would have allowed drilling was vetoed by President Clinton.

There have been continued fights between environmentalists and oil companies about drilling, and a split Congress will not resolve that.

Coal

According to the EIA, the United States does have 28 percent of the world's coal resources, and coal is the fuel for nearly half (45 percent) of the electricity produced in the U.S. It's also dirty: Coal emits sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and mercury, which have been linked to acid rain, smog, and health issues. Coal also accounts for 37 percent of total U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide released into the Earth's atmosphere in 2010.

However, coal resources are not currently "off limits." Though cheaper than petroleum, U.S. coal production has declined in recent years, and only a modest increase in coal use is expected, held in check by continued low natural gas prices and increased use of renewable and nuclear energy.

The only limits on coal mining in the U.S. are recently imposed restrictions against "mountaintop removal" methods of mining, a form of surface mining that despoils the land and water systems surrounding the mine. According to the EPA, this method accounted for less than 5 percent of U.S. coal production as of 2001.

Drilling

Bob Schieffer asked Bachmann about her position on extracting fossil fuels in environmentally sensitive areas, such as the Florida Everglades.

"Schieffer: When you said as part of this policy that maybe we ought to start drilling oil wells in the Everglades,' [Floridians] took some exception to this. They pointed out that's where they get their drinking water. This is kind of a natural resource down there that people from the NRA to even some folks you would call 'tree-huggers' want to protect. Did you really mean that? You're ready to start drilling oil wells in the Everglades?"

Bachmann: "Well, of course, I didn't bring this up. I didn't say that we should drill in the Everglades. What I said is, because we know that thousands of Floridians receive their drinking water from the Everglades, what I said is that we need to open up resources across the United States of America but do it responsibly because we need to make sure that, of course, that we don't do anything that has degradation for habitat or for drinking water or for air quality.

"But the good news is we can do this. We have the technology in the United States to responsibly access America's energy resources."

Schieffer: "Even in the Everglades?"

Bachmann: "Anywhere in the United States. Even if it's Iowa or Minnesota or Washington, D.C. If we can access energy responsibly in a way that does not degrade the environment nor cause problems to humans or to animals or to the environment, then we can access these resources. Wherever it is, we can access these resources if we do so responsibly."

What Bachmann told Associated Press writer Brendan Farrington last week was that "The United States needs to be less dependent on foreign sources of energy and more dependent upon American resourcefulness. Whether that is in the Everglades, or whether that is in the eastern Gulf region, or whether that's in North Dakota, we need to go where the energy is."

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.

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