Ecocentric

Why Michele Bachmann’s $2-a-Gallon Gas Promise Is a Fantasy

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Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann (Photo: Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call Group)

Since virtually the entire field of Republican presidential candidates has decided to abandon science — with the exception of Jon Huntsman, whose negligible support has to be measured with an electron microscope — I could easily spend the next 15 months shooting down every false statement they make about climate change, energy policy or evolution. I’ll pass, though — Climate Progress has that thankless job pretty much covered. One of the reasons I eventually migrated into science and environment writing — after an early career profiling Filipino boxers — is that I find politics and political reporting utterly maddening. So I’ll mostly remain a spectator.

But on Wednesday Michele Bachmann said something that’s just very, very wrong. Which isn’t unusual in and of itself but is something that needs to be debunked. At a campaign stop in South Carolina, the Minnesota Representative took on the high price of gasoline:

The day that the President became President, gasoline was $1.79 a gallon. Look at what it is today. Under President Bachmann, you will see gasoline come down below $2 a gallon again. That will happen.

(PHOTOS: Gas Stations Through the Years)

So Bachmann has promised to bring gasoline below $2 a gallon — a 56% decrease from the current average price of $3.58 a gallon.

Now, there are a few things wrong with this. For one, the $1.79-a-gallon figure that Bachmann cites is from December 2008, before Barack Obama actually took office. (When Obama was inaugurated, gas cost $1.81 — not a big difference, I know, but how hard would it have been to get the right figure? The data are right here.) More important, though, is the reason that gas was — comparatively speaking — so cheap a few years ago. It wasn’t because the U.S. was suddenly pumping more oil, or because the Saudis had decided to flood the market, or because the head of ExxonMobil lost his mind and started to give all Americans a 2-for-1 deal on gas. The U.S. — and the world — was in the depths of the worst recession since the 1930s, depressing demand for everything from data centers to electricity to driving. It’s Econ 101: precipitous falls in demand usually trigger precipitous falls in price, which is what happened to gas prices, dropping from a high of $4.05 a gallon in mid-July 2008 to a low of $1.69 a gallon at the end of December that year. If you see sub-$2-a-gallon gas again, I strongly suggest that you stock up on bottled water and canned tuna, because the economic end times may be at hand.

(PHOTOS: Michele Bachmann’s Life On and Off the Campaign Trail)

Of course, the other way to cut prices is to increase supply, and Bachmann and other politicians argue that we could do so by opening up more territory for oil exploration in the U.S. — a policy known in 2008 as “Drill, baby, drill.” She’s right — up to a very, very, very small point. For one, the U.S. under Obama is already producing more oil than it did before he took office. Thanks in part to new shale oil deposits, the U.S. produces a million and a half barrels of oil more today than it did in 2005 — yet during that same time period, gas has gone from about $2 a gallon to $3.50, with large spikes in between. And even if we opened up everything to drilling, it wouldn’t make much difference at the pump. A 2009 study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration found that opening up drilling areas off the East Coast, West Coast and the western coast of Florida would yield 500,000 extra barrels of oil a day by 2030. That might sound like a lot — except the world consumes 89 million barrels of oil a day, and by then will almost surely be using much more. Five hundred thousand barrels is a drop in your gas tank. Assuming OPEC simply reduced its own production to account for increased American drilling — which it would — prices at the pump might drop a whole 3 cents a gallon.

Look, there are good economic arguments for increasing oil exploration at the U.S. that have nothing to do with gas prices. Every barrel of oil we can produce at home rather than importing reduces our trade deficit and supports valuable domestic jobs. (You may hate them, but the oil and gas industry provides some of the best-paying jobs in the country for those without a college degree.) But the oil market is a global one, and it will be rising demand from developing countries like China and India that will really change prices. The U.S. President, as the Atlantic‘s Alexis Madrigal writes, can’t control that. The only way we can try to reduce the price of gas effectively — or at least, shield Americans from the economic burden of high prices — is through more fuel-efficient cars, which would reduce demand. But Bachmann has opposed raising fuel-efficiency standards — and for that matter, energy-efficient lightbulbs. There’s nothing in her record or her statements to indicate that she would support the kind of policies that help break America’s dependency on expensive energy.

Unless, of course, a President Bachmann were to preside over disastrous economic policies that threw the world back into a deep recession, as an Economist writer speculates:

Ms Bachmann, meanwhile, was a strong opponent of an increase in the debt ceiling. Failure to raise the debt ceiling would have produced an immediate cut in government spending of 44%, leading to a larger output decline than was observed in 2008. Personally, I have total confidence that Ms Bachmann can bring back cheap petroleum, one way or another.

So maybe it’s not so impossible after all — as long as you’re willing to endure a little collateral damage.

Bryan Walsh is a senior writer at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bryanrwalsh. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

MORE: Why the GOP Wants to Kill the EPA

MORE: Debunking a Few Myths About Drilling and Oil Prices

43 comments
JamesDuggan
JamesDuggan

This shows what kind of credibility the Science section of Time magazine has.  

Zero.  None.  Nada. 


ToddMickel
ToddMickel

That moment when you realize the statement you definitively debunked became a reality 4 short years later. Whoops!

hilgenberg58
hilgenberg58

$1.96 for 87 unleaded even in my gas-tax-happy (and every kind of tax. for that matter) frozen tundra Blue state of MN.  Suck it Bryan! President Obama was no better at driving up gas prices than he is at anything else.  And now he has the nerve to try to take credit for it.

About what you'd expect from a guy who'd choose a closed auto plant as a venue for bragging about how he saved the auto industry.



JeffDeWitt
JeffDeWitt

Walsh you blew it again. Economics trumps demagogic politicians like 0bama and "experts" like you.

PhilipWilson
PhilipWilson

Once again an ideologue wraps himself in the infallible (sic) shroud of "science" and beclowns himself.  It IS true that this administration has done all it can to keep gas prices high.  No Keystone, no drilling on the ever expanding federal lands.  But private enterprise has once again upset the carefully planned applecart of the elite central planners who know oh so much more than the great unwashed.  Once great Time continues to shed credibility and relevance.

JamesDuggan
JamesDuggan

What a Jackleg the author of this piece has proven himself to be. 

PeterHoltHoffman
PeterHoltHoffman

It seems she was right. As of 5 January 2015 in Greenville SC, the price of gasoline is $1.79.

JamesMadison2
JamesMadison2

And yet the leftest here will make up fantasies to explain away the utter stupidity this MINDSET was.  Just like they do when confronted with Ferguson.......

CharlesValnor
CharlesValnor

Oh my the smug in this, strong is, yes, mmm! 

"You may hate them, but the oil and gas industry provides some of the best-paying jobs in the country for those without a college degree."

Oh, that just DRIPS elitist snobbery, don't it! Do dey keep lots of us po' culled folk off the street too, suh?


Keep on fracki'!

ArtisanFlorissant
ArtisanFlorissant

I guess this article is getting some new activity in the US conservative world. There's two things that this article says that they, in their haste, are ignoring, because they want all words spoken by campaigning conservative politicians (...even Michele Bachmann) to be right.


1) Rep. Bachmann's comment was about US gas prices. Despite her tweet yesterday morning standing by a gas station (in Minnesota?) showing $1.989 for a gallon of gas, US gas prices are still not below $2 a gallon. Maybe they will be in time but they're not there yet; current US gas prices are at $2.218/gallon. 30% or so of gas stations in the US are selling gas below $2/gallon.


2) This article gives several ways in which US gas prices could plummet below $2/gallon. 


"because the Saudis had decided to flood the market"

Is one of the reasons they gave, and it's the reason why gas prices right now as so relatively low.


So basically this article, which conservatives think is wrong, predicted that US gas prices could drop if the Saudis flooded the market. ...which is exactly why US gas prices have fallen.

BobMcMahan
BobMcMahan

We saw during the Ebola business credentialed folks making self-evidently inaccurate statements. Here, we have a guy who must have studied for a little while telling one whopper after another. It is no wonder that Time has lost readers. Who wants to pay to read nonsense.

Detour
Detour

Bryan?  Do you have an feedback here?   Anyone, Bueller?  anyone??  Thought so..  Stick to what you know..  hair products and Selfies.

Bill_Fan
Bill_Fan

Liberals make predictions and are proven wrong at an alarming rate, especially in the GW arena.

Obamacare is the next wheel to fall off the wagon.

RobertT.Ives
RobertT.Ives

Looking forward to the explanation of why Mr. Walsh is STILL right.  That is what the left does.


Note here the very young "science" reporter who tells us who has chosen to "abandon" science. Get some perspective, Mr. Walsh, and spend some time OUT of the echo chamber.  Oh, sorry.  If you did that no one would let you work for a mainstream publication.  Just keep following the party line.

tiernanlaw
tiernanlaw

Another leftist shill "journalist" proven wrong but still has a job!

Totally wrong (here in Texas gas is $1.82 today) because of the exact reason this snide leftist says was impossible!

#corruptmedia

MarcusClenney
MarcusClenney

Looking pretty foolish today Bryan. Maybe next time you write an article that might be proven wrong some day, you'll write with less mocking and condescension. 

DonWilliams
DonWilliams

Does Bryan Walsh still have a job? 

ClarenceConner
ClarenceConner

Isn't fracking wonderful?  Would have been there much sooner if not for the current administration.

RU14ME2C
RU14ME2C

Hmmmm .. gas is under $2 here also ... So I guess Economic end times are upon us?  Is Armageddon about to take place?


RUN FOR YOUR LIVES EVERYONE !!!!.. 

milehisnk
milehisnk

So here we are, 3-1/2 years later.  Gas is $2.0x a gallon, man-made climate change has been rebuked by thousands of climatologists and other scientists who don't rely on government subsidies for funding their research.


Do you bake, or broil crow?

tjp77
tjp77

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAA 


Do you people ever get tired of being wrong? 

elite8megascore
elite8megascore

Time for a face plant.  Crow is going to be served to you, piping hot!

DeborahSamson
DeborahSamson

Should I be stocking up on canned tuna? Gas is $1.99 here on December 13th, 2014.

mdtrot1
mdtrot1

Well, since gas at the pump is now down to $2/gallon in some areas, it looks like maybe Michelle was right, and you were wrong.  Newt was right as well when he said we could get it down to $2.50/gallon, and he was derided and made fun of as well.  The problem in America is the public too often are listening to the wrong people, unfortunately.

barsoverthere
barsoverthere

@ArtisanFlorissant Wrong. Saudi Arabia is NOT "flooding the market". Their output is the same as it was this past summer when gas prices were still high. There has been no NEW increase in production by the Saudis. That would be "flooding the market". The Saudis have, however, chosen to keep their output at pre-crash levels in order to keep prices down in an attempt to break the back of U.S. and Russian fracking. 

But let's be SUPER clear about one thing: gas prices are currently low DESPITE president Barry, not because of him. As Romney so sharply pointed out in one of the worst "in your face/nice try" moments of the first debate, oil and gas production is up because of production on PRIVATE LAND. Obama has done everything he can to curtail the industry on federal land, but is powerless to control what goes on on private land.


So, while it is true that recessions in eastern Europe and Asia are contributing to the drop in oil prices, so too has the increased output in the U.S.. "Drill baby, drill!" worked. It just takes a little time is all.


Stings, don't it?

JamesDuggan
JamesDuggan

@ArtisanFlorissant The Saudis HAVEN"T flooded the market.  They have held production steady.  

All market flooding has been accomplished by the US of A. 

Hippolytus
Hippolytus

@ArtisanFlorissant


The Saudis have not flooded the market, they just haven't cut back production. Look at the rate of oil production in SA and compare it to the US: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/jan/04/amy-klobuchar/klobuchar-says-us-worlds-no-1-oil-producer/


SA has kept their oil production steady for years and its the US that has drastically increased oil production. Yes, the US has drilled its way to cheaper prices. Period. You and the idiot that wrote this column are WRONG.



FrankDrebbin
FrankDrebbin

@ArtisanFlorissant Do you know why the Saudis have flooded the market and lowered the price of a barrel of oil?  I do.  They are trying To take as many successful fracking operations off line.  Many US Shale Companies can not afford to extract and produce oil for sub $60 a barrel. The Saudis are taking a beating in order to disrupt our oil independence.

Translation:  Fracking is the reason that oil prices are this low.  Period.  The End!

Sorry if that doesn't fit your narrative...

2cobber
2cobber

@ArtisanFlorissant Gas prices aren't below $2/gal.? You mean to say, they're below $2/gal. but that doesn't mean they're below $2/gal. Got it.

Look! Over there!! The Saudis!! 


Nice post, caveats galore.


And you can keep your doctor, etc. (except for the fine print)...