August 5, 2008

Time’s Tripe Is ‘Tired’: Writer Claims Obama Is Right, Ridicule Is ‘Smear’ (See Update)

UPDATE, Aug. 6 — The media fact-checker overview begins here (the original post is below the fold):

  • “….. all the oil that they’re talking about getting off drilling” Obama refers to is NOT just the 200,000 additional barrels obtainable from the “Pacific, Atlantic and eastern Gulf regions.” Republican proposals also include Alaska, shale oil, and tar sands.
  • Just including Alaska coastal at very conservative extraction assumptions leads to a potential of almost 1 million barrels of oil a day instead of only 200,000.
  • Fully ramped-up production from shale oil and tar sands at very conservative extraction assumptions would lead to a potential of another 27 million (you read that right) barrels a day.
  • The potential savings from proper tire inflation and tune-ups, which would improve fleetwide gas mileage by at most 2%, would be about 120,000 barrels a day, as only 30% of the nation’s 20 million barrels per day oil usage goes towards gasoline for vehicles. (2% times 30% times 20 million equals 120,000.) The remaining usage is 40% for other transportation (trucks using diesel, aviation, and trains) and 30% for non-transportations uses.
  • This 120,000 barrels in potential savings (which I believe is STILL higher than realistically achievable), is only 60% of the additional oil obtainable from “Pacific, Atlantic and eastern Gulf regions,” about 12% of what is obtainable from all US coasts, and less than 1% of what is obtainable from all sources, including shale and tar sands.
  • The idea that proper tire inflation and tune-ups could reduce daily oil consumption by 800,000 barrels, or 4% of ALL oil usage, as Obama defenders are claiming, is absurd on its face.

Details of the original post follow.


Also: See Lyndsi Thomas’s earlier NewsBusters post on the column by Time’s Michael Grunwald.


Five days after Barack Obama’s comic statement that we can eliminate the need to drill for more oil through proper tire inflation and getting regular tune-ups, Time Magazine’s Michael Grunwald was still bitterly clinging to the idea that Obama was right.

Grunwald published his attempted Monday defense of Obama’s “tired” claim on Monday — several days after numerous bloggers and others had refuted it.

That didn’t stop the Time writer from stepping in it bigtime in his attempt to defend the indefensible. Grunwald’s “analysis” is so pitiful and woefully incomplete that it deserves a serious slap-down.

From ABC’s Political Punch blog, here is exactly what Obama said last Wednesday — which, curiously, Grunwald didn’t bother to quote:

“Making sure your tires are properly inflated, simple thing, but we could save all the oil that they’re talking about getting off drilling, if everybody was just inflating their tires and getting regular tune-ups. You could actually save just as much.”

Here’s Grunwald’s “defense”:

But who’s really out of touch? The Bush Administration estimates that expanded offshore drilling could increase oil production by 200,000 bbl. per day by 2030. We use about 20 million bbl. per day, so that would meet about 1% of our demand two decades from now. Meanwhile, efficiency experts say that keeping tires inflated can improve gas mileage 3%, and regular maintenance can add another 4%. Many drivers already follow their advice, but if everyone did, we could immediately reduce demand several percentage points. In other words: Obama is right.

….. Politics ain’t beanbag, and Obama has defended himself against worse smears.

Grunwald didn’t cite where his 200,000 barrels a day figure came from. The closest I could find to justifying it is at a June 19, 2008 article in the Los Angeles Times. There, the Chicago Tribune’s Mark Silva wrote the following:

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) said that opening access to undersea oil fields “in the Pacific, Atlantic and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030.” Drilling in domestic waters off all the coasts except Alaska’s would increase annual production from 2.2 million barrels a day to 2.4 million barrels a day, the agency estimates.

There are at least four problems with Mike Grunwald’s presumed reliance on this statement (if anyone has a better link — that includes you, Mike — please e-mail me or add a comment below; Update — NewsBusters commenter gifwiz found the original source of the quote at EIA).

  • The EIA estimate, as cited by Silva, does NOT say that the full amount of the production increase will not materialize until 2030, as Grunwald claims. The full amount of the annual increase would occur well before that.
  • Grunwald’s “expanded offshore drilling” reference only involves “domestic waters off all the coasts except Alaska’s.” Last time I checked, Alaska has a coastline too. In fact, there’s 44,000 miles of it. Excluding it was a fundamental oversight.
  • When President Bush lifted an offshore drilling ban in Alaska in mid-July with an Executive Order, the Associated Press’s Ben Feller wrote that “Bush says offshore drilling could yield up to 18 billion barrels of oil over time, although it would take years for production to start.” Assuming that includes all coasts and the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, or ANWR (the AP report is not crystal clear on that), and that the 18 billion barrels would be recovered over an absurdly long 50-year period, that’s an average of 986,000 barrels a day from offshore drilling (18 billion divided by 18,262 days contained in 50 years) — about five times larger than the 200,000 Grunwald used. If Bush was only referring to Alaska, add another 200,000. If Bush didn’t include ANWR, the amount is much larger still.
  • Note that Obama didn’t limit his use of the word “drilling” to offshore applications as Grunwald did. There are least two other forms of drilling for oil: “shale oil drilling” and “oil sands drilling.” The synopsis of this June 2005 NPR story on the topic indicates that US oil shale reserves amount to more than a trillion barrels (that’s with a “tr”). This Wikipedia link indicates that reserves could be more than 2 trillion. Estimated tar sands/oil sands reserves are another 32 billion barrels. Assuming only a trillion barrels and spreading extraction over 100 years, that’s 27.3 million barrels a day (you read that right; it’s 1 trillion divided by 36,525 days contained in 100 years).

The total daily amount obtainable from all sources of drilling, if allowed, would be at least 28 million barrels a day (27.3 million plus 986,000, rounded to the nearest million), or at least 140 times more than Grunwald claimed.

Now let’s turn to Obama’s hyper-inflated inflation and maintenance assumptions:

  • Granting that “keeping tires inflated can improve gas mileage 3%,” Grunwald is assuming that no one is currently keeping their tires properly inflated. Given that 40%-50% of Americans have someone else change their oil (according to this search as, about 50%-60% change their own), and that the oil change services routinely check tire pressures (which they do), Grunwald’s assumption is absurd on its face. Additionally, those who change their own oil are often more conscientious about other aspects of keeping their cars roadworthy, such as proper tire inflation, than those who don’t. I’d be surprised if even a 1% improvement in gas mileage could be achieved if all cars somehow magically had properly inflated tires.
  • Grunwald’s maintenance claim (“regular maintenance can add another 4%” gas mileage improvement) is even more problematic. Of course, it also assumes that no one is currently maintaining their vehicles properly (does that include the author?). Crucially, note that Obama referred only to “regular tune-ups.” Hello? This is every bit as ignorant as Bush 41′s alleged lack of knowledge of store checkout scanners in 1992 (which is a myth, by the way). Ten years ago, this New York Times article noted that manufacturers had been touting the 100,000 mile tune-up interval for some time. This Google News Archive search indicates that the 100,000 mile tune-up interval has been a feature of most cars for at least 15 years. Where has Obama been? That isn’t to say that there aren’t other maintenance steps owners need to take. But following the same logic as applied to oil changes, and accounting for human nature, I don’t see how more than a 1% improvement in mileage could be squeezed out of the maximum realistic improvement in nationwide vehicle maintenance.
  • Finally, according to this basic data page at the EIA, only 70% of US oil consumption, or 14 million barrels a day (70% of 20 million) is used in transportation.

All of this means that the maximum achievable usage reduction if everyone followed Maximum Leader Obama’s suggestions would be 280,000 barrels a day (2% of 14 million; but also see the Update below). That’s only 1% of the low-ball estimate above of 28 million barrels a day obtainable from all forms of drilling. We would be taking advantage of these gifts from God already if it weren’t for the fact that unlike every other country on earth, which sees natural resources as a blessing to be opportunistically exploited for the benefit of everyone, our politicians and elites see them as environmental liabilities that have to be locked up.

In sum, Barack Obama is at least 99% wrong. That’s not a “smear,” Michael Grunwald. It’s a fact.

But let’s look at the bright side. Given how misstep-prone and gaffe-prone their candidate has been in recent months, the Obama campaign can seize upon the fact that he is less than 100% wrong on anything as a tangible improvement.

Cross-posted at


UPDATE: Treeeeeeeemendous point made by NewsBusters commenters c5then and Dee Bunk, where they say that a majority of the 70% devoted to “Transportation” is for trucks (diesel), aviation, and trains. c5 says that “Gasoline refined from oil makes up less than 30% of our oil usage.” So 40% is for non-auto transportation, and 30% is for all other applications. This knocks the maximum potential savings calculated above to 120,000 barrels a day (3/7 of 280,000) — unless you think truckers aren’t all over tire pressure issues all the time, or that tire pressure somehow matters when a plane is in flight (and the tires are tucked away) or when a tireless train is rolling.

This makes Obama and Grunwald only 0.43% right (120,000 divided by 28 million) — and 99.57% wrong.



  1. I think we can be assured that in the coming months boy wonder will make an exponential number of stupid statements; almost at the same rate the Federal Reserve is currently printing money (wink wink). We can also be assured that with each flub made by the wonder child the MSM will sanitize any mention, all the while stepping up pressure on Congress to deal with the growing menace of alternative media, which is cutting into the MSM’s profits and power.

    The media elites “know” which candidate is best for our country and have made their decision; and they will make sure Congress aids their quest, and the US will comply.

    Comment by Brian — August 5, 2008 @ 11:13 am

  2. the Obama campaign can seize upon the fact that he is less than 100% wrong on anything as a tangible improvement.

    But Tom, that’s the point, it only takes a kernel (1%) of truth to make a lie believable. What you see right here is the inner workings of propaganda. The most believable lies are those told with some irrefutable facts. Keeping your tires at pressure does save fuel and wear and tear on tires, that’s an indesputable fact.

    It seems that in Obama’s mind, his greatest asset is in snowing the public with as much bull as possible. Obama like most propagandists take advantage of people’s natural inclination to give someone the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.
    Our job then is to sow the seeds of doubt and expose the 99% that is not truth.

    Comment by dscott — August 5, 2008 @ 12:23 pm

  3. So I guess we should deflate our tires cause Obama said we should check them. However trivial it is, it is a good idea to check your tire pressure. Only petty cranks have to read some ‘evil’ into it

    Comment by morrisminor — August 5, 2008 @ 12:58 pm

  4. #3, zheesh.

    No “evil,” just a statement by a presidential candidate that’s at least 99%, no make that 99.57%, wrong.

    I’m looking for the part of my post where I said checking tire pressure isn’t a good idea. I can’t seem to find it. Can you quote it?

    Comment by TBlumer — August 5, 2008 @ 1:36 pm

  5. #3′s comment is another angle on the propagandist ploy using a kernel of truth, except this time using the Strawman argument. If it makes little difference, why bother? And as you remarked where did you say we shouldn’t check our tire pressure? Which is another ploy in the lib propaganda arsonal, making a false attribution for the straw man argument.

    You know this is a good story in and of itself, the Art of Propaganda. What we consider as gaffes (accidental or ignorance) by Obama is actually a deliberate action on his part. Remember which audience he is playing to? The left and moderates. The left will believe any assertion on Obama’s part even when exposed, the moderates on the other hand will cease believing when sufficient “gaffes” have been exposed. Obama is counting on us missing the “gaffe” and not exposing it. Of course you know he is going to pull the plausible deniability argument by claiming “I was mistaken or misspoke” to negate anything he is caught on and “not material” in any event so therefore in Obama’s mind he can do these little “gaffes” with impunity without consequence. Propaganda is the art of using your audience’s assumptions and presumptions to mislead them. The Big Lie is based on the presumption of truth by the teller and the shock of outrageousness of the story that it must be true.

    Comment by dscott — August 5, 2008 @ 3:37 pm

  6. Here is the page that will give you the definitive stats on various sectors and types of petroleum product.

    I find it rather confusing as to what consumption that is being indicated when you look at the various charts, but I’ll let you decide which one is really relevant.

    What I find troubling is this chart: our total gross domestic output has been falling since the 80s. If drilling had have been permitted instead of relying on foreign imports, the US Treasury would have been in the black even until now assuming the dirt bags in Congress didn’t just spend more of it.

    Comment by dscott — August 6, 2008 @ 8:33 am

  7. You don’t drill for tar sands oil, you strip-mine to get it.

    Comment by CityKin — August 6, 2008 @ 8:45 am

  8. #7, click on the Google search provided in the post. “Oil sands drilling” is a clearly accepted term, as companies/vendors in the business are using it.

    Comment by TBlumer — August 6, 2008 @ 8:57 am

  9. #6, absolutely crucial and critical point, and an indictment of most of the Washington establishment (though GOP congresscritters have made the point that they passed legislation to allow drilling four times in the past decade, only to have the Senate blow it off).

    Comment by TBlumer — August 6, 2008 @ 8:59 am

  10. Oil Sands Drilling returns 1,200 hits and Oil Sands Mining returns 24,000 hits. I think Mining is the proper term, as the land must be completly strip mined and the sand must be steamed to retrieve the oil. The YouTube videos that result with “oil sand dilling” show coring or exploration video, not actually retrieving useable product.

    I think this is important, because huge acerage must be devestated to mine the tar sands and we should be upfront about that. Also the tar sand must be heated (usually with natural gas) to liquify.

    Comment by CityKin — August 6, 2008 @ 4:21 pm

  11. #10, agree re getting to tar sands.

    It’s by far the smaller of the two between shale and sands. It think shale is less problematic environmentally, but in the big picture, I’m sure we’d be responsible with it.

    The question is whether we have the will to get to the resources that are there. If we didn’t have the will 100 years ago, we’d have never mined for coal.

    Comment by TBlumer — August 6, 2008 @ 4:32 pm

  12. #10, I believe they have perfected a process recently (back in 2005) where they inject heat into the ground to heat the stuff in the ground and then pull up the liquid without having to strip mine. Details discussed on page 2.

    Comment by dscott — August 6, 2008 @ 5:02 pm

  13. I’ve tracked my gas mileage for the past 18 months. Last fall, one of the tires on my son’s car had a leak. That prompted me to check my tires. To my stunned surprise they were all 5+ pounds low. I filled them. The change in my gas mileage: Zero. None. Nada.

    I’m admittedly a sample of one and even if my mileage did increase a little, not having to buy new tires saved me even more money!

    Comment by Joe — August 6, 2008 @ 5:53 pm

  14. By the way, you left off coal gasification. Or did you?

    Comment by Joe — August 6, 2008 @ 5:53 pm

  15. #14, you are correct. I left it out, because I don’t think it can be seen as a form of “drilling,” which is what Obama’s quote alluded to.

    My gut reaction is that it’s a nice idea, but that you’re converting something that could be and is used directly already. Why bother, esp given other sources? Someone may have a better take on it than I.

    Comment by TBlumer — August 7, 2008 @ 1:39 am

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