Dick Morris Is Wrong Again (Oil Drilling Edition)

As we've noted time and time again, Fox News contributor and columnist Dick Morris has an abysmal track record of analyzing, well, pretty much anything. So when he posted video commentary explaining his “take on American oil production,” it was sure to be a doozy.

In the video, Morris proclaims that domestic oil production is “going to collapse” next year because the Obama administration “has literally zeroed out” its issuance of permits. In addition to falsely suggesting that the deepwater drilling moratorium in the Gulf halted all new Gulf drilling (shallow water permits were still approved), Morris claims that the administration also hasn't granted any permits for “shale and slate” oil drilling in Montana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and New York. From the video:

MORRIS: Oil production next year and the year after and the year after is going to collapse because Obama has literally zeroed out new oil exploration and drilling permits in the United States. He had a formal moratorium in the Gulf after the BP oil spill and then he lifted the moratorium but in fact they've only granted one permit whereas the Bush administration was granting 8 or 10 a year. And he's not granted any permits for exploration in the shale and slate deposits in Montana and North Dakota and Pennsylvania, in New York state, which could be enormous sources of oil for the United States.

First of all, “slate” deposits? It doesn't look like Morris misspoke given that during a Fox News appearance yesterday, he also referred to Obama's “refusal to grant permits for slate drilling.” However energy experts contacted by Media Matters confirmed that slate rock is not, in fact, a known source of oil deposits.

But more importantly, Morris' claim that “oil production next year and the year after and the year after is going to collapse” is baseless. In fact, the latest projections from the Energy Information Administration have U.S. oil and liquid fuels production in 2011 and 2012 higher than any year of the Bush administration. Just look at the EIA's total production forecast and tell me if you see an impending “collapse” coming within the next couple of years:

Crude Production

Which leads me to Morris' third erroneous proclamation: That the Obama administration isn't permitting any drilling and exploration of shale oil. The fact of the matter is that to a large extent, the federal government doesn't control drilling and exploration onshore because much of the oil is not within federal lands.

As EIA administrator Richard Newell stated in his March 17 testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee, “about 6 percent of total onshore lower-48 oil resources” are located on federal lands with lease stipulations:

The AEO2011 estimates that total onshore lower-48 technically recoverable oil resources available for development are 113.9 billion barrels (as of January 1, 2009), including about 6.6 billion barrels located on Federal lands with lease stipulations in addition to standard lease terms--which is about 6 percent of total onshore lower-48 oil resources. Federal lease stipulations dictate what oil and natural gas producers can and cannot do on Federal lands. Oil and natural gas producers can employ a variety of technologies to comply with such stipulations, such as drilling extended reach wells to avoid drilling in sensitive habitat areas, drilling multiple wells from a single drilling pad to minimize the surface area disturbed, using water purification equipment to clean produced water before it is discharged, or replanting indigenous species to restore the land. While lease stipulations may tend to increase costs, they do not preclude oil and natural gas production on Federal lands. Given the relatively modest volume of the oil resources on these lands - compared to total U.S. oil resources - changing lease stipulations on Federal lands is unlikely to have a significant long-term impact on U.S. oil production or prices.

It is also clear, when looking specifically at oil-producing areas in the states mentioned by Morris, that federal permitting has far less of an impact on overall shale production than he implies. In fact, according to a 2004 assessment, the federal portion of the oil reserves in the Williston Basin - which is located in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota and contains the Bakken Formation, a large source of shale oil - is 22.5%.

In Montana, drilling on land not owned by the federal government is overseen by the Montana Board of Oil & Gas Conservation which is responsible for, among other things, “issuing drilling permits.” So even if BLM stopped issuing permits, drilling in the state would hardly come to a halt. But the thing is, BLM hasn't stopped approving permits, nor have they stopped leasing federal land for oil and gas exploration.

As for production in Eastern states like Pennsylvania and New York, the fact of the matter is that the federal government simply doesn't have much land there. In New York, the federal government controls a mere 168,992 of New York's 30 million acres. Similarly, in Pennsylvania, the federal government owns only 0.6% of the total land.