Why the U.S. Is Pumping More Oil Than Any Other Country in History

Listen to this article

Produced by ElevenLabs and NOA, News Over Audio, using AI narration.

If all goes well, 2023 will be remembered as the year the clean-energy revolution took off in America. Hundreds of billions of dollars in climate-related spending flowed into the U.S. economy. Nearly 300 clean-energy projects were announced across the country, and electric-vehicle sales hit a new record. “America is once again leading the world in the fight against climate change,” Joe Biden wrote, not unreasonably, in a presidential proclamation in October.

Here’s something else America is leading the world in: oil production. This year, the United States pumped out more oil than any other country in history, producing millions more barrels than Russia or Saudi Arabia ever have and accounting for almost a fifth of the world’s total oil production. And the Biden administration played a part in making it happen.

Raising America’s fossil-fuel output was not part of the president’s original plan. In his first week in office, Biden killed the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and placed a moratorium on new leases for oil and gas projects on federal lands (a decision that was later overturned by the courts). But a year into his term, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent global oil prices soaring. From January to June 2022, the price of gasoline rose 49 percent, to a national average of more than $5 a gallon—the highest price in more than a decade. Spiking energy prices pushed already-high inflation even higher, igniting fears of a 1970s-style price spiral. Voters’ views on the economy began plummeting just months before a pivotal midterm election.

So the Biden administration began using every tool at its disposal to bring prices under control, most of which involve increasing supply. It released 180 million barrels from the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve, eased sanctions enforcement against Venezuela and Iran, and pressured domestic companies to boost production. That fall, the administration announced measures to “encourage immediate investment” by promising to buy oil from private producers if the price were to fall below a certain level. Although the president’s control over gas prices is limited, these ongoing actions appear to have made an impact. A Treasury Department analysis credited the strategic-petroleum-reserve release alone with shaving off 40 cents a gallon, and some experts believe that the impact was even greater. “President Biden is committed to doing everything in his power to respond to Putin’s Price Hike at the pump,” read a 2022 White House statement, “and he is delivering.”

You could look at this and conclude that the Biden administration abandoned its principles at the first sign of political trouble. After all, the only way to reduce emissions is by burning less fossil fuel. By boosting domestic oil supply, the Biden administration seems to be contributing to the very problem it claims to want to solve.

The reality is more complicated. “Pushing for reductions in U.S. oil production is like squeezing a balloon—the production will ‘pop out’ somewhere else,” writes Samantha Gross, an energy-and-climate expert at the Brookings Institution. The world’s energy needs are growing rapidly, which means oil companies are going to supply it regardless of what the White House does. If the U.S. were to cut back tomorrow, prices would rise. In the short term, this would lead to less consumption and lower emissions. But those high prices would only entice producers in other countries to step in, as many did in the months after Russia’s invasion. For that reason, reductions in U.S. oil production could actually result in higher overall emissions. The U.S. has one of the least emissions-intensive oil industries on the planet. Shifting production to countries with looser standards would likely be worse for the climate.

But the deeper explanation for the Biden administration’s actions has to do with the politics of climate change. Put simply, pursuing a decarbonization agenda requires Biden to maintain political support, and there is no surer way to lose political support than by presiding over high gas prices. Biden’s approval rating has tracked gas prices for most of his presidency (although he hasn’t yet benefited from recent improvements), and the drop in prices in the months leading up to the 2022 midterms may have contributed to Democrats’ unexpectedly strong performance in those elections. Plus, when the price of energy goes up, the price of everything else tends to rise as well, sparking further inflation. Polls show that voters support boosting domestic fossil-fuel production by a nearly two-to-one margin, with a majority of every demographic group in favor except white Democrats. Energy prices could easily make the difference between a second Biden term and four more years of Donald Trump.

The latter outcome would be truly devastating for the planet. As my colleague Zoë Schlanger has documented, conservative groups are devising a “battle plan” to block solar and wind expansion, prevent states from adopting car-pollution standards, and hobble the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump is also planning to do everything he can to sabotage Biden’s signature climate bill, the Inflation Reduction Act; a Republican Congress could repeal it altogether, making it nearly impossible for the U.S. to reach its emissions targets. This all makes the cost-benefit calculus of oil production a lot trickier. A second Trump term would be orders of magnitude worse for emissions than any short-term production increase.

The same political logic extends beyond any single election. High energy prices have already inspired a populist backlash against decarbonization across Europe. The GOP has attempted to brand Biden’s clean-energy agenda as “Biden’s War on American Energy,” stoking the misleading but potent narrative that the transition to clean energy will be financially ruinous for ordinary people. If that fear were to become widespread, many leaders worry it could set back the clean-energy revolution by decades.

“We’ve seen what happens when the move to clean energy doesn’t bring people along,” a senior Biden-administration official who was not authorized to speak publicly told me, pointing to France’s “Yellow Vest” protests against a fuel tax in 2018. Pumping more oil hurts the climate today, but it may be necessary to safeguard the policies that will save the planet tomorrow.

Indeed, the administration’s support of U.S. oil production is more of a temporary stalling tactic than a long-term strategy shift. The climate provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act—which together represent the largest piece of climate legislation in world history—are designed to do one thing: destroy future demand for fossil fuels. By funneling hundreds of billions of dollars into technologies such as solar, wind, and EVs, the law will, if all goes according to plan, make clean energy so cheap that people will switch over to it voluntarily. So far, it appears to be working. Electric vehicles are expected to be cheaper than gas-powered cars in the U.S. by as early as 2026, and solar power is already the cheapest energy source in many places. By 2030, EVs are projected to make up two-thirds of global car sales, and wind and solar will provide a third of the world’s power. That year is also when the International Energy Agency expects the world’s fossil-fuel demand to peak. Eventually, the thinking goes, there will be no reason to pump out tens of millions of barrels of oil every day—because no one will want them. The Biden administration appears to see its job as keeping energy prices stable until we reach that tipping point.

The logic is clear—but, for anyone who cares about solving the climate crisis, the implications can be maddening. A president who has called climate change humanity’s “greatest existential threat” is in charge of the world’s largest petrostate. Officials who have spent their entire career trying to prevent global warming are implementing policies that they know will, in the short term, continue to heat up an already too-hot planet. For decades, the science has been unequivocal: Humanity must stop burning fossil fuels. Yet America’s leaders have come to believe that preventing catastrophic global warming requires pumping out more fossil fuels than ever before. The most frustrating part of all this is that they’re probably right.

This article was originally published by a www.theatlantic.com . Read the Original article here. .