Busting the Myth of the Obama Administration’s “War on Oil”

Mar 31, 2016

Throughout President Obama’s time in office, oil and natural gas companies have been claiming to be the victims of a “war on oil” waged by the Obama administration, especially targeting oil and gas production from land and water that belongs to American taxpayers.

New data from the Office of Natural Resources Revenue disproves the myth. Onshore oil production from U.S. public lands has risen steadily, even despite the recent collapse in global oil prices. In fact, oil production from public lands has increased each fiscal year in the past ten.

Since President Obama entered office in 2009, oil production on public lands—which includes lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—has increased by 62 percent.

A graph showing that onshore oil production increased far more during Obama's first term than during Bush's presidency

Meanwhile, offshore oil production from public waters has rebounded strongly since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, considered one of the worst environmental disasters in American history. Offshore oil production peaked at 603 million barrels in FY 2010, dropped to 476 million barrels per year in the spill’s aftermath, and was back up to 553 million barrels in FY 2015.


A graph showing that offshore oil production decreased after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, then rebounded


Combined, offshore and onshore oil production on public lands reached its highest levels in at least a decade in FY 2015, easily surpassing the combined production totals during the final years of the Bush administration. In 2008, President Bush’s final year in office, oil and gas companies produced 639 million barrels of oil from U.S. public lands and waters. By 2015, that number had risen to 719 million barrels.

A graph showing that public lands and waters oil production, both onshore and offshore, was higher in 2015 than in 2008

Meanwhile, natural gas production on national lands remained relatively steady during the Obama years, despite the collapse of global natural gas prices. Total onshore natural gas production on public lands in FY 2015 remained equal with FY 2005 production, even though the price of natural gas was 70% lower in 2015.

A graph showing that natural gas production on public lands remained relatively steady during the Obama years, despite the collapse of global natural gas prices

Alongside outdoor recreation, wildlife conservation, ranching and timber, and the provisioning of freshwater, oil and natural gas production is one of multiple important uses on America’s public lands. The Bureau of Land Management is tasked with the challenge of balancing these multiple uses, while ensuring industrial activities like oil and gas extraction proceed safely, responsibly, and without harm to U.S. public lands.

While actively working to encourage responsible energy development, President Obama’s administration has also acted to strengthen safeguards and ensure American lands, waters, and communities are protected from the negative impacts of drilling.

A few of the critical reforms include new planning policies to help avoid intractable conflicts between drillers and other interests, alongside updated rules to protect land and water resources from modern drilling techniques. The Bureau of Land Management is currently in the process of updating rules to limit waste of natural gas from oil and gas drilling.

The latest data from ONRR show that protecting American lands and promoting responsible energy development are not mutually exclusive goals.