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Originally published Monday, March 12, 2012 at 5:31 PM

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U.S. less energy dependent, federal report says

A new Obama administration report cites "significant progress" in reducing foreign-oil imports and increasing domestic oil and gas production.

Tribune Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON — Against the backdrop of gasoline prices rising in an election year, a new Obama administration report cites "significant progress" in reducing foreign-oil imports and increasing domestic oil and gas production.

The report by six federal agencies was released Monday on the anniversary of a speech by President Obama in which he pledged to reduce American dependence on foreign oil imports by one-third in about a decade.

According to the study, the United States reduced net imports of crude oil last year by 10 percent, or 1 million barrels a day. The U.S. now imports 45 percent of its petroleum, down from 57 percent in 2008, and is on track to meet Obama's long-term goal, the administration maintains.

Imports have fallen, in part, because the United States has increased domestic oil and gas production in recent years.

U.S. crude-oil production increased by an estimated 120,000 barrels a day last year from 2010, the report says. Production now is about 5.6 million barrels a day, the highest since 2003.

The United States has been the world's largest producer of natural gas since 2009, the report says. Use of renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar, is still relatively small but has doubled since 2008.

A new poll shows that mounting frustration with the president's handling of the economy, driven in part by a sense that he can influence gasoline prices, has eroded Obama's approval rating.

A Washington Post/ABC poll found that 46 percent of people surveyed approved of Obama's job performance, while 50 percent disapproved. That is a reversal of the president's ratings from last month, when his approval hit 50 percent for the first time in that survey in nearly a year.

The quick drop coincides with a spike in gas prices and an increase in criticism from Obama's Republican rivals on the issue, even as the economy has shown noticeable signs of growth.

The poll underscored how rising gas prices threaten to keep Obama from reaping the rewards of the good economic news. The survey found that 65 percent of respondents disapproved of Obama's handling of gas prices, even though half said they believed there was nothing the administration could do to bring down the cost of gas.

Still, the report highlights improvements in the overall energy picture, citing initiatives such as the higher fuel efficiency of passenger cars, the jump in renewable energy output, and improved weatherization of 1 million homes.

But independent analysts attribute much of the fall in oil imports to slack U.S. demand in a still-anemic economy. And to a certain degree, they say, the boost in domestic oil and gas production is the result of decisions energy companies made during the George W. Bush administration to develop key reservoirs.

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