Obama Misleads on Oil Reserves, Networks Defend Him, Fail to Fact Check

ABC, CBS, NBC ignore estimates U.S. has 60 times more oil than ‘proven reserves.’

When President Barack Obama recently pontificated on gas prices, the broadcast networks listened, parroted his explanations of why gas prices have more than doubled since he took office. But the networks had a much different take on gas prices when a Republican president was in office.

On March 7, 2012, Obama declared: “We've got 2 percent of the world oil reserves; we use 20 percent. What that means is, as much as we're doing to increase oil production, we're not going to be able to just drill our way out of the problem of high gas prices.” 

While technically true, Obama’s “oil reserves” numbers are very misleading due to the narrow definition of “proven reserves.” The three broadcast networks failed to clear up that misconception for viewers and passed blame for high prices on to others.

The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” columnist Glenn Kessler dismissed Obama’s figures as a “non sequitur,” noting that proven reserves “have a very strict definition, in part because reserves are considered actual assets owned by companies. The oil must have been discovered, confirmed and economically recoverable, with at least 90 percent certainty. The level of reserves, in fact, may vary depending on the price of oil, since a higher price may suddenly make some finds economically viable.”

John Merline of Investor’s Business Daily also pointed out the “myth of scarce oil” on March 14. He noted that the United States had 60 times more oil than Obama claimed saying: “When you look at the whole picture, it turns out that there are vast supplies of oil in the U.S., according to various government reports.”

He continued, “All told, the U.S. has access to 400 billion barrels of crude that could be recovered using existing drilling technologies, according to a 2006 Energy Department report.” (“Proven” reserves of oil in the U.S. total 22 billion barrels) Merlin also cited a Rand Corp. study that estimated there are about 800 billion barrels of additional recoverable oil in shale just in Wyoming and nearby states.

Yet, Obama has claimed that he has little control over gas prices and perpetuated the idea of scarcity saying, “Anyone who tells you we can drill our way out of this problem doesn't know what they're talking about -- or isn't telling you the truth.”

Major media figures have agreed with the president. CBS anchor Charlie Rose directly defended Obama’s gas prices record on “This Morning” on March 13: “There's little that he can do … in the short term to affect gas prices, and gas prices hurts his political chances. CBS “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer was included in that segment and agreed with Rose saying, “That's right on all counts … the problem is … people think there are things he can do about it.”

Of course, there are several things Obama could do to help supply long-term that might impact prices. William O’Keefe of the George C. Marshall Institute noted that while “there are few short-term fixes,” Obama is “wrong in implying that he has done all that he could have done [to lower gas prices]. Sensible and realistic policy decisions over the past three years would have led to lower priced gasoline.”

Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has been particularly critical of Obama on energy issues, calling for him to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and take other steps to increase domestic production of oil.

Yet, ABC, CBS and NBC have refused to discuss these important details. Instead, the broadcast networks have advanced explanations of rising gas prices that do not blame the president. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos put the blame for high gas prices on Wall Street on Feb. 24, citing a “top government watchdog (namely Bart Chilton, a former Democratic staffer) who tells us that a big chunk of the pain at the pump is Wall Street's fault.” NBC’s Brian Williams repeated that claim: “The problem is gas prices are largely set by commodities traders, also know these days as speculators.”

These are the same networks that repeatedly bashed President Bush over high gas prices. Their news broadcasts hyped the horrors of high gas prices when Bush was in office, and at times directly pointed the finger at Bush for high gas prices.

But Obama has largely gotten a pass from the media on the issue – despite the fact that he appointed an energy secretary who wanted higher prices saying, “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.”