Obama: Weve Created Enough Pipeline to Wrap Around the Earth

(Image: John Moore/Getty Images)

During Tuesday’s debate between President Barack Obama and GOP presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney, their second of three meetings only three weeks before the election, Obama said ”We’ve built enough pipelines to wrap around the Earth once.”

The discussion at the time in the debate centered on Romney questioning the Obama administration’s vetoing of the Keystone Pipeline: “How in the world the president said no to that pipeline, I will never know.”

What exactly does the president’s comment mean? Does he mean pipeline build during the last four years? Does he mean pipeline ever created? Obama didn’t make that clear at the time, but through some digging we found out.

First, it’s important to know it’s a talking point Obama has made before. In his March 22 remarks on American-Made Energy, Obama said the following (emphasis added):

Now, under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That’s important to know.  Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states.  We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some.

Politifacts pulled together numbers from the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, after this comment to see how it worked out. It found that from 2008 through 2010, there was an increase of 29,604 miles of oil and gas pipeline. Given that circumference of the Earth at the equator is 24,873.6 miles, Obama’s “and then some” rings true.

Taking it a step further to see if there are other considerations that should factor into this, Politifacts questioned a couple experts. Here’s what it found:

Jay Hakes, former director of the Energy Information Administration under President Bill Clinton, said the data are reliable and “as near as I can tell, the assertion is well documented and correct.”

Tadeusz Patzek, chair of the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, pointed out that many miles of those pipelines are “field/project gathering lines of small diameter and small throughput” — not large transmission lines many of us think of.

He’s right. According to the DOT numbers, 21,177 miles of the new pipeline are listed as natural gas distribution lines.

Still, such lines are “a necessary piece” of the whole system. Said Patzek: “Without the small stuff you’re not going to increase the flow rate through the large.”

As Obama expressed in March and continued to do so Tuesday night, he does not believe that expanded drilling and transport of fossil fuels at home alone will bring prices down. The president continues to emphasize a focus on renewable energy as a solution to increasing prices and what he believes will be a continued dependence on foreign oil even if drilling were expanded at home.

In the debate, Obama said that while he’s “all for pipelines,” he’s “not for us ignoring the other half of the [equation].” This he said would include wind energy.

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