Did The U.S. Really Become The World’s Top Oil Producer Under Trump?
As the presidential election draws nearer, I see increasing claims that President Trump has brought the US back to the top as the world's leading oil producer. So let's take a closer look at that.
Here is a 2013 article heralding the US as the world's leading oil producer:
China overtakes the US and becomes the world's largest oil importer
There are numerous articles from 2013 and 2014 announcing that the US has regained its position as the world's top oil producer. So what is the basis for claiming that President Trump brought the US back to the top? Allow me to explain.
To support this claim, someone linked me to an Energy Information Administration (EIA) article. This article has a graph that appears to show that the US was getting closer to the top spot for petroleum in 2013-2015 (before the oil price crash), but didn't reach that distinction until 2018.
That seems to support the claim, but there are two things to note about this graph here. First, the graph doesn't show barrels of oil. The energy content is reported. When we talk about how much oil Saudi Arabia produces, we are talking about barrels. Nobody says Saudi Arabia produces 25 trillion British thermal units of petroleum.
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Second, it is important to note how petroleum is defined. Crude oil is a category of petroleum. Another is "condensate". This refers to light liquid hydrocarbons obtained from natural gas, which is often associated with oil production. These liquids consist mainly of pentane and heavier hydrocarbons and are added to the crude oil in a specific processing stage (which could be the refining stage).
The last category is "natural gas liquids" or NGLs. These are lighter hydrocarbons in natural gas that are separated as liquids in natural gas processing plants. Natural gas liquids include ethane, propane, regular butane, and isobutane. Some of the NGLs are refined with crude oil and blended into finished products such as gasoline.
The footnote in the graphic above shows that all of these categories are included in the definition of petroleum. However, condensate and NGL have a lower energy content than crude oil. Comparing Saudi Arabia, the US, and Russia on the basis of energy instead of barrels therefore gives a different answer, as Saudi Arabia and Russia produce significantly less NGL than the US.
If you look at US production in barrels, the US produced 9.4 million barrels of crude oil per day (BPD) in 2015, compared to 10.8 million barrels in Russia and 10.4 million barrels in Saudi Arabia. However, the US also produced 3.3 million BPD NGL in 2015, up from 249,000 BPD for Russia and 1.6 million BPD for Saudi Arabia. In terms of barrels of what the EIA defines above as petroleum, the US was number one in 2015. In fact, we had reached this distinction some time in 2013 as the Daily Mail article suggested.
But let's get to the bottom line. US oil production rose sharply in 2009, President Obama's first year in office. Natural gas production had increased a few years earlier. Oil production had the biggest gain of any presidents under President Obama and nearly doubled during his tenure.
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After strong gains from 2009 to 2014, oil production fell briefly as prices collapsed before resuming the increase along the same path. In 2017 and 2018, US oil production grew roughly as fast under President Trump as it did under President Obama (albeit at a slower rate as the total volume was larger).
Who is then responsible for - at least before the Covid 19 pandemic - the highest oil and natural gas production in US history? President Obama? President Bush? President Trump?
None of the above. The person most responsible is the late George Mitchell, who generally considers the "father of fracking" to be. It was hydraulic fracturing that enabled the enormous growth rates in oil and natural gas production over the past 15 years. Who was president was largely irrelevant. Hence, we see an ironic decline in oil production under President Bush and an increase under President Obama.
Different presidents would have passed different policies that could have little impact on overall production, but these would have been dwarfed by the effects of fracking. When a president is given a loan, the most basic reason for profits from oil and gas exploration in the US is missing.
By Robert Rapier
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