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Misinformation: The U.S. has cut its operating oil refineries in half

The Shell refinery is seen in Martinez, Calif.

The Shell refinery is seen in Martinez, Calif. Credit: AP, 2008


A recent letter to the editor called out “an unaddressed serious energy problem” for the United States that had not been mentioned in the presidential debates. The problem, according to the writer: ”Years ago we had 300 operating oil refineries in the United States. That number has been reduced by half, and in the last two years, three additional refineries have been closed so that we now have 147 … or less.”

The writer goes on to state his concern that this reduction makes the United States more dependent on foreign imports, putting us at the mercy of Middle East and other suppliers.

The number of oil refineries has indeed fallen, according to the Congressional Research Service. However, the facts show that U.S. production of oil has increased over the past four years. So, the number of refineries is not necessarily connected to domestic oil production.

The letter writer said he's concerned that this issue was not being mentioned in the presidential debates. Perhaps the closest the candidates came was when challenger Mitt Romney criticized President Barack Obama about gas and oil permits during the Oct. 3 debate. Romney said, “On government land, your administration has cut the number of permits and licenses in half.”

In fact, there has been a significant drop in the number of permits and licenses issued on federal lands, but it’s an exaggeration to say that they were cut in half. Leases are down 42 percent, and drilling permits by 37 percent.

Ever submitted a letter to the editor and wondered why it wasn’t published? Sometimes – not always – it’s because Newsday’s research revealed that the information in the letter wasn’t quite accurate. So, the letter disappears into a void, which may leave writers wondering what happened. That's why we're introducing this regular feature, “Misinformation,” on our blog -- to try to set the record straight about a wrong fact or impression.