As Americans face sticker shock at the gas pump with prices near $4 per gallon and climbing, Republican presidential candidates see a political opportunity. On the campaign trail, they direct public anger at President Barack Obama by making absurd claims about his power to affect gas prices. Newt Gingrich promises gas at $2.50 per gallon if he wins the presidency. Mitt Romney blames the president for constraining domestic production. In truth, presidents have little control over the price of oil, where prices are set on a world market. Republicans who suggest that gas prices will come down if drilling is allowed in environmentally sensitive areas are looking out for only one constituency: the oil companies and their profits.
Romney said earlier this month that Obama should "open up drilling in the gulf, open up drilling in ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge). Open up drilling in the outer Continental Shelf, drill in North Dakota, drill in Oklahoma and Texas." But he failed to note that the United States is producing more crude oil and other liquid fuels both on and offshore now than at any time since the 1980s. But with only 2 percent of the world's reserves and an appetite that consumes more than 20 percent of the supply, the United States isn't going to drill itself to oil-based energy security. Romney is perpetuating a falsehood that may be applauded by his oil industry friends, to whom he spoke recently at the Petroleum Club in Louisiana, but no one else should buy it.
Historically, the price of gas in the United States has hewed closely to the global price. During the 1980s and '90s, even as domestic production fell sharply, so did prices. Today's gas price rise is due to global demand that is expected to hit a record this year. China, India, Latin America and the Middle East have increased their claims on the world's supply. Add in supply instability out of Nigeria, Syria and South Sudan as well as traders' nervousness over Iran, and filling up the car commands more and more of the family budget. It is understandable that Americans are angry, but they shouldn't be bamboozled by renewed calls to "drill, baby, drill."
Obama's more sensible "all of the above" energy policy includes responsible domestic production, alternative energy as well as conservation and fuel efficiency — one of the brightest spots on America's energy independence picture. In 2011, cars and light trucks averaged 29.6 miles a gallon, compared with 24.7 miles a gallon 10 years before, which has considerably lessened America's demand for foreign oil. Obama's agreements with automakers has the nation on track to nearly double the fuel efficiency for new vehicles by 2025, reducing consumption of oil by millions more barrels a day.
This is the responsible approach that will lead to national energy security down the road and buffer families from volatile gas prices. The mantra to simply drill more is a policy as empty as the promise of $2.50-a-gallon gas.