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World & Nation

Despite high gas prices, White House says energy plan is on track

 

Against the backdrop of gasoline prices rising in an election year, a new Obama administration report cites “significant progress” in reducing foreign oil imports and increasing domestic oil and gas production.

The report by six federal agencies was released Monday on the first anniversary of a speech by President Obama in which he pledged to reduce American dependence on foreign oil imports by a third in about a decade.

According to the study, the United States reduced net imports of crude oil last year by 10%, or 1 million barrels a day. The U.S. now imports 45% of its petroleum, down from 57% in 2008, and is on track to meet Obama’s long-term goal, the administration maintains.

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Imports have fallen, in part, because the U.S. has increased domestic oil and gas production in recent years.

U.S. crude oil production increased by an estimated 120,000 barrels a day last year from 2010, the report says. Current production, about 5.6 million barrels a day, is the highest since 2003.

The U.S. has been the world’s largest producer of natural gas since 2009, the report says. Use of renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar, is still relatively small but has doubled since 2008.

A new poll shows that mounting frustration with the president’s handling of the economy, driven in part by a sense that he can influence gasoline prices, has eroded Obama’s approval rating.

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A Washington Post/ABC poll found that 46% of people surveyed approved of Obama’s job performance, while 50% disapproved. That’s a reversal of the president’s ratings from last month, when his approval hit 50% for the first time in that survey in nearly a year. The quick drop coincides with a hike in gas prices and an increase in criticism from Obama’s Republican rivals on the issue, even as the economy has shown signs of growth.

The poll underscored how rising gas prices threatened to keep Obama from reaping the rewards of the good economic news. The survey found that 65% of respondents disapproved of Obama’s handling of gas prices, even though half said they believed there was nothing the administration could do to bring down the cost of gas.

Still, the report highlights improvements in the overall energy picture, citing initiatives such as the higher fuel efficiency of passenger cars, the jump in renewable energy output and improved weatherization of 1 million homes.

But independent analysts attribute much of the fall in oil imports to slack U.S. demand in a still-anemic economy. And to a certain degree, they say, the boost in domestic oil and gas production is the result of decisions energy companies made during theGeorge W. Bushadministration to develop key reservoirs.

The report, titled “The Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future,” appears aimed, at least in part, at tamping down political fire from Obama’s Republican rivals and other critics who say his administration has not done enough to fight higher gasoline prices.

“We’re experiencing yet another painful reminder of why developing new American energy is so critical to our future,” the report states. “We know that there are no quick fixes to this challenge.”

Domestic gasoline prices rise and fall with global crude oil prices, which have been driven up by the gradual economic recovery and by market jitters over mounting tensions with Iran, one of the world’s largest oil producers. The closing of several U.S. refineries also has pushed gas prices higher.

Most Americans are convinced that Obama and Congress could do more to reduce gasoline prices, according to a recent Gallup poll.

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GOP candidates on the campaign trail and some oil industry leaders have charged that Obama’s energy policies stifle domestic production, and they have urged the administration to open as much public land and offshore areas as possible to drilling.

More domestic drilling, however, would not end the need for imports. The U.S. holds 2% of the planet’s proven oil reserves, but Americans consume 25% of the world’s daily output of crude oil.

neela.banerjee@latimes.com

Kathleen Hennessey in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.


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