Today, Fox's Stuart Varney said that "the facts back up" Mitt Romney's suggestion during the second presidential debate that oil production on federal lands has dropped under President Obama. But fact-checkers have pointed out that Romney's argument was misleading - while production declined between 2010 and 2011 in the wake of the BP oil spill, overall oil production on federal lands is up since the Bush administration.
On America's Newsroom, Varney claimed that oil production is "way down" by "40 percent offshore, onshore drilling on federal land."
VARNEY: I think where the real force came in was when the president made a mistake, a factual mistake. Governor Romney said, look, how do you account for the fact that drilling on federal land and offshore is way down? The president seemed to contest that but governor Romney came back strong and said look, it is down. Drilling is down. And the facts back up Governor Romney. We're down by about 40 percent offshore, onshore drilling on federal land. And that is a fact. And the president could not really answer that forcefully. In fact, he tried to take credit for the extra oil production on private land that we've got now to places like North Dakota.
But Romney's claim, which Varney overstated, that "Production on government land of oil is down 14 percent," was misleading according to independent fact-checkers and others. As this chart created from Congressional Research Service data shows, oil production from federal lands was up in 2011 compared to 2007:
And the Columbia Journalism Review noted that while oil production from federal lands did decline by about 14 percent -- not 40 percent -- between 2010 and 2011, 2010 was "exceptionally productive," "outstripping any year's productivity during the Bush administration." PolitiFact rated Romney's statement "half true," quoting a former director of the nonpartisan Energy Information Administration who noted that the figure is "cherry picked" and mainly reflected the need for a moratorium and regulation after the BP oil spill. Average production on federal lands during Obama's first years has been slightly higher than the average production during the Bush administration years on record. Even the conservative Washington Free Beacon, while attacking Obama's record, admitted that "drilling on public lands is up." In addition, three of the five largest onshore oil and gas lease sales in the history of the Bureau of Land Management came in 2011.
Furthermore, raising the issue of oil production on federal lands during a question about gasoline prices is itself misleading. As an Associated Press statistical analysis of 36 years data found, there is no correlation between gas prices and U.S. oil production. If overall domestic oil production, which is up, doesn't affect the price of gas, it's clear that drilling policies for federal lands are even less significant for consumers.