Feb 5, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Dissecting Trump's State of the Union energy claims

Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

President Trump talked up the U.S. energy boom and sought to make it into a political asset during Tuesday night's State of the Union.

Why it matters: Energy has been prominent in the 2020 White House race.

  • Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren want to ban fracking, which would greatly curtail production. But while they could exert considerable sway over federal lands, a national ban would require very long-shot legislation.
  • Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg would impose major new constraints on energy development but have not proposed such sweeping bans.

What Trump said:

"Thanks to our bold regulatory reduction campaign, the United States has become the number one producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world, by far. With the tremendous progress we have made over the past three years, America is now energy independent, and energy jobs, like so many other elements of our country, are at a record high."

Reality check: The U.S. oil and gas production surge began well over a decade ago and has continued under Trump. Crude oil production surpassed its 1970 peak around late 2017, remarkably grew by roughly 2 million barrels per day in 2018, and kept going.

  • The U.S. became the world's largest gas producer around 2009, and overtook Russia and Saudi Arabia to become the largest crude producer about two years ago.
  • While the country has recently started becoming a net exporter of oil and petroleum products combined, "energy independence" is not accurate. The U.S. still imports several million barrels of crude per day.
  • The country's rise stems most directly from advances in hydraulic fracturing and drilling techniques that have unlocked shale resources, and market forces — not regulatory changes.

Worth noting: The words "climate change" never appeared in the speech, though Trump did reiterate that the U.S. is joining the global "one trillion trees" initiative launched at the World Economic Forum last month.

  • There's no major election-year pivot from the White House climate posture in the offing.
  • At the same time, it comes as House Republicans are promoting planting trees as one of their climate policies, while rejecting Democratic calls for mandatory emissions curbs and fossil fuel restrictions.

Reality check: Via the New York Times' SOTU coverage...

  • "But just how much all these trees will help is disputed. According to a report last year by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, the United States produced about 5.8 billion tons of emissions in 2019."
  • "Getting that much carbon out of the atmosphere with trees alone would require planting on about 371 million acres — about four times the area of California."

Go deeper: Key takeaways from Trump's State of the Union address

Go deeper

The U.S. is not energy independent

Reproduced from EIA; Chart: Axios Visuals

A new Energy Information Administration report shows that while late last year the U.S. became a consistent net exporter of petroleum (that is, crude oil and refined products combined), regions outside the Gulf Coast remain importers.

Why it matters: While it's not discussed in the EIA analysis, President Trump boasted in this week's State of the Union that the U.S. is "now energy independent."

Climate activists target Big Tech over fossil fuel work

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Big Tech is making splash with its aggressive carbon reduction goals, but some of its employees and climate activists are criticizing Google, Microsoft and Amazon for nonetheless partnering with fossil fuel companies to use artificial intelligence to find hidden hydrocarbons and bring them to market.

Why it matters: Big oil companies are some of the richest, most resourceful enterprises in the world. They collect multiple terabytes of data daily but don't have the capacity to analyze and efficiently utilize that volume of facts without AI.

Sanders and Bloomberg split over fracking

Bloomberg, Warren and Sanders at the Las Vegas debate. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Tonight's Democratic primary debate in Las Vegas laid bare the candidates' differences over fracking as Bernie Sanders defended his push for an outright ban and challenged concerns that it could hurt Democrats politically.

Driving the news: NBC's Chuck Todd asked Sanders what he would tell workers in Pennsylvania, a swing state where natural gas extraction via fracking is a major industry. Todd cited this New York Times piece on the politics of fracking there.