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Sorting out the truth in state politics

PolitiFact Florida: Fact-checking a TV ad on gas prices

Gas prices are fueling a drag race of political ads on Florida television. In one lane, it's spiking gas prices under President Barack Obama. In the other, it's "Big Oil's" support for Mitt Romney.

"Since Obama became president, gas prices have nearly doubled," says one of the ads, from a group with ties to the oil industry called the American Energy Alliance.

"Obama opposed exploring for energy in Alaska," the ad continues. "He gave millions of tax dollars to Solyndra, which then went bankrupt. And he blocked the Keystone pipeline. So we will all pay more at the pump."

The ad is right that gas prices have doubled (more than doubled, in fact) since Obama took office in 2009, but we decided to look at the ad's larger point — that Obama's policies on Alaska, Solyndra and Keystone are contributing to those higher gas prices.

We'll take the policies one at a time.

Energy exploration in Alaska. The ad's first claim is that Obama "opposed exploring for energy in Alaska." That's only partly true.

The president has opposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a large nature preserve managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But the Obama administration recently approved a plan for Shell Oil to drill in the Chukchi Sea, off the northwest coast of Alaska.

If Obama had green-lighted drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, would gas prices be lower today? Not according to the evidence we reviewed.

A 2008 study done by the independent Energy Information Administration for the late Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, found that it would take 10 years to actually produce oil from the area. That's only if there were no protracted legal battles, environmental challenge or delays in getting government permits.

Solyndra. The ad then references Solyndra — a solar panel manufacturer that won government loan guarantees, but then went belly up.

The inclusion of the company is perplexing. Solyndra was an energy company focused on generating electricity for buildings — not gasoline for cars. There's no evidence the company, or the federal money it received had any effect the price of gas prices.

The Keystone XL pipeline. The ad goes on to say that Obama blocked the Keystone pipeline. Obama did block the Keystone XL, an addition to an existing pipeline, so that oil sands (also known as tar sands or bituminous sands) could be moved from Canada to refineries near Houston, Texas, and the Gulf of Mexico.

But again, the context of Obama's action resulting in today's high gas prices is misleading. Since the pipeline was only proposed in 2008 with a then-projected opening of 2013, it's hard to see how gas prices in 2012 would be lower.

And whether Keystone will even reduce gas prices in the future is a contested point. An analyst for the company behind the pipeline, TransCanada, says it would bring down gas prices by 3.5 to 4 cents per gallon. But environmentalists have seized on arguments that the pipeline could drive gas prices up, by giving Canadian oil an outlet to world markets through the Gulf of Mexico and bypassing U.S. customers.

We contacted the American Energy Alliance to ask them about the connection between these issues and today's gas prices. Spokesman Benjamin Cole said that Obama's overall policies are hostile to the domestic oil and gas industry, and that markets have reacted with increased prices.

Not everyone sees it that way, though. Obama's energy policies have been "surprisingly constructive," said Michael Levi, an expert on energy with the Council for Foreign Relations, in a March op-ed for ForeignPolicy.com. In an article titled "The Driller in Chief," Levi argued that Obama's regulations are aimed at "dumb and preventable accidents" that would "do far more to set back U.S. oil and gas development than some smart minimum standards set out at the federal level."

Other experts we spoke with were dubious about the impact of any of the above issues — drilling in Alaska, Solyndra, the Keystone pipeline — on today's gas prices.

Gas prices reflect the cost of oil on world markets and tend to reflect long-term trends, expectations for economic growth and geopolitical concerns. One example: Rising tensions with Iran, a major oil exporter.

"Looking at this year, what's affected prices are the issues with Iran," said Jessica Brady, a spokeswoman for the travel organization AAA, which monitors gas prices.

What about drilling in Alaska, Solyndra and Keystone? "Really, none of those three issues have had an impact on the gas prices we've been paying," she said.

We agree. This claim is False.

This item has been edited for print. To read the full fact-check, visit PolitiFact.com/Florida.

The statement

Gas prices have doubled because "Obama opposed exploring for energy in Alaska. He gave millions of tax dollars to Solyndra, which then went bankrupt. And he blocked the Keystone pipeline. So we will all pay more at the pump."

The American Energy Alliance, March 27, in a television ad

The ruling

PolitiFact ruling: False

Gas prices are higher now, but there's no evidence that Obama's policies on Alaska, Solyndra or the Keystone XL caused the higher prices. We rate the statement False.

PolitiFact Florida: Fact-checking a TV ad on gas prices 04/22/12 [Last modified: Sunday, April 22, 2012 9:22pm]
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