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FACT CHECK: Gingrich energy ad errs on facts

Associated Press Modified: February 24, 2012 at 2:01 pm •  Published: February 24, 2012
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WASHINGTON (AP) — A 28-minute political ad offers a candidate something sound bites can never capture — a chance to explore a subject in depth.

But in the case of Newt Gingrich's unusual extended commercial on American energy policy, it just means more time for mistakes.

In the ad, Gingrich offers a pain-free prescription for cheap energy that betrays a misunderstanding of how oil markets work, blames President Barack Obama for suppressing development that is actually on the rise, criticizes a dependence on Iranian oil that doesn't exist and misstates the facts behind the deaths of migratory birds in oil waste pits in North Dakota.

He also pledges to make the country more energy independent, but calls for scrapping fuel economy standards — one of the best ways to curb the U.S. appetite for oil and decrease foreign imports.

Here are some of Gingrich's claims and how they compare with the facts:

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GINGRICH: "Finally, what if that big new idea meant that you personally were better off because you are buying gasoline for $2.50 a gallon, not for $3.89 or $4, or what some people project by the summer could be $5 or more?"

THE FACTS: Presidents often get blamed for rising gasoline prices but can't do much about them because the price is set by global markets.

Gas prices follow oil prices, and oil prices have been rising. The price of the foreign oil that's imported by most U.S. refineries and turned into gasoline and other fuels has risen 11 percent so far this year, to about $119 a barrel, because of tensions with Iran, a cold snap in Europe and rising demand from developing nations. Oil produced in the U.S. and used by refineries in the middle of the country to produce gasoline is up 4 percent to about $103 a barrel, 19 percent higher than a year earlier. No presidential "big idea" can reverse those forces.

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GINGRICH: "Under President Obama, because he is so anti-American energy, we actually had a 40 percent reduction in the development of oil offshore, and we have had a 40 percent reduction in the development of oil on federal lands."

THE FACTS: Gingrich bases this statement on a figure published by the Energy Information Administration that has since been retracted because it was incorrect. The figure left out an entire subset of production. In addition, the erroneous number represented both oil and gas production on public lands, while Gingrich cites only oil.

For offshore, the energy information agency data show production has surged in the first two years of the Obama administration after being on a downward trend since 2003. In 2008, prior to Obama taking office, Gulf oil production hits its lowest level in a decade.

A recent report from the agency predicts that in the short term, oil production in the Gulf of Mexico, where Obama placed a moratorium on new deep-water exploratory drilling after the massive BP oil spill, will show an overall decline for this year before rebounding.

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GINGRICH: "In North Dakota, where the developments are on private land so the liberals have not been able to stop them, the Obama U.S. attorney for North Dakota filed a lawsuit because eight migratory birds had been found dead near oil fields."

THE FACTS: In August 2011, U.S. Attorney Timothy Q. Purdon — an Obama appointee and top Democratic activist — charged seven oil companies with killing 28 migratory birds in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Some of the birds were not found "near oil fields" as Gingrich claims, but were discovered drenched in oil in waste pits, which birds and waterfowl land in after mistaking them for ponds. In North Dakota, such waste pits have multiplied in the state's drilling boom.

Prosecutors have dismissed charges against one company, and a federal judge in September dismissed charges and rejected plea agreements for the other six firms. The U.S. attorney plans an appeal.

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