If Gov. Sarah Palin, by John McCain's estimation, "knows more about energy than probably anyone in the United States of America," then why is she getting such basic facts about our nation's energy production wrong?
At a townhall event in Wisconsin on Thursday, Palin was asked by a concerned questioner whether it was true that the United States was shipping 75 percent of its Alaskan oil overseas. She responded by proclaiming it impossible, since Congress had put strict bans on the amount of oil and gas that America could export.
Not so. As the Associated Press reported:
No Alaska oil has been exported since 2004, and little if any since 2000, according to the Energy Information Administration and the Congressional Research Service.
And Congress has never imposed outright bans on oil exports. Congress prohibited exports of Alaska oil in 1973 when the Alaska oil pipeline was built. But that ban was lifted in 1996 when there were large volumes of Alaska oil coming down from the North Slope and U.S. demand was soft.
The Alaska ban has never been reinstated.
Unfortunately, for Palin, this was not merely an inconsequential misstatement but rather another in a series of errors when it comes to discussing what is supposed to be her policy strength. For a while on the trail, the Alaska Governor was fond of declaring that her job - as head of state - "has been to oversee nearly 20 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of oil and gas."
That too was incorrect. As the Washington Post's Fact Checker noted:
Alaska is the ninth largest energy supplier in the United States, accounting for a modest 3.5 percent share of the nation's total energy production...
... After the non-partisan Factcheck.org pointed out Palin's error in her interview with Gibson, the Alaska governor revised her claim somewhat, limiting it to oil and gas. But data compiled by the Energy Information Administration contradict her claim that she oversees "nearly 20 percent" of oil and gas production in the country. According to authoritative EIA data, Alaska accounted for just 7.4 percent of total U.S. oil and gas production in 2005.
One thing Palin did get right was her assertion that the U.S. does not ship three-quarters of its Alaska-drilled oil to other countries. The amount, in actuality, is quite minimal (523 million barrels of petroleum product), especially compared with the amount that the country imports (roughly 4 billion barrels).