The White House's official Twitter account sent out something of a mixed message on Thursday. Oil production is at a 24 year-high!, it trumpeted. At the bottom of the tweet, the suggestion you share that news with the hashtag #actionclimate.
President Obama's five-year-old climate tension in one awkward tweet.
RT the good news: For the 1st time in nearly two decades, we're importing less oil than we're producing. pic.twitter.com/M30ewhgKqi— The White House (@WhiteHouse) November 14, 2013
Oil consumption, of course, is one of the primary contributors to the climate change that the wh.gov/climate-change page advertised at the bottom of the tweet exhorts visitors to take action on. The spike in oil production under Obama, depicted in the graph above, has largely been the result of improvements in shale extraction processes. Or, in layman's terms: fracking. The massive boom in the oil industry on the North Dakota-Montana border is thanks to hydrofracturing — and it accounts for a lot of that spike. (At right, monthly production since 1920.) Fracking raises a long list of environmental concerns: water pollution, methane release at natural gas wells, even earthquakes. And, of course, climate change.
Since he was elected, the president has tried to balance two issues: the job growth that has followed the expansion of drilling in the Plains states and the need to curtail carbon emissions to address the changing climate. That's the tension we note above, his attempts to portray himself as hyper-green tempered with deep-rooted caution. Obama still hasn't reached a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, for example — in part due to insistence from business groups that the pipeline's construction will create jobs.
Since his reelection, Obama has been more attentive to climate issues. In June, he announced one of his most important efforts to date, plans to severely curtail emissions from coal power plants — an announcement, it was almost too obvious to point out, that came only after he won a second term. In his first term, the EPA enacted more stringent fuel efficiency standards, a quiet win meant to reduce oil consumption.
That's the point the tweet tries to get at in the text accompanying the image: Overall oil consumption is down. And that's generally true. The Energy Information Agency shows that weekly levels of supplied petroleum dropped sharply a few years ago. But it's almost certainly the case that the drop was linked to the economy, not to effective anti-climate change policies.
On Capitol Hill, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (no relation) has announced his intention to give a weekly series of speeches articulating the need to address climate change. It's a cause with which Barack Obama, the leader of his party, ostensibly agrees. But old habits die hard. More domestic oil drilling and less imported oil are good for economic and security reasons. They are not good for the environment or the climate.