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Originally published Friday, February 24, 2012 at 11:51 AM

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FACT CHECK: Gingrich energy ad errs on facts

A 28-minute political ad offers a candidate something sound bites can never capture - a chance to explore a subject in depth.

Associated Press

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WASHINGTON —

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.

All seven companies had previously been fined for violating the same law, and some of those enforcement cases had been filed under previous administrations. Bird deaths from oil pits can be avoided by simply covering the open tanks with netting, federal inspectors say.

The Justice Department has also brought criminal proceedings against oil companies for breaking the law prior to Obama's tenure.

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GINGRICH: "It comes down to a simple idea: What if we had a program that enabled the American people to develop so much new energy that we were, in fact, no longer reliant on Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran."

THE FACTS: The U.S. doesn't import any oil from Iran. Together, Saudi Arabia and Iraq accounted for about 13 percent of all U.S. imports in 2010, according to the EIA. To replace what the U.S. is importing from those two countries with drilling alone would require domestic oil production to grow by 25 percent. The EIA predicts domestic production will peak in 2020, but even that won't be enough to cover what is imported today from those two countries. Eliminating dependence on imports would require both more domestic production and reduced demand. U.S. oil imports dropped below 50 percent in 2010, thanks in large part to a lackluster economy, more efficient cars and the blending of ethanol into gasoline.

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GINGRICH: "Now I want you to think about this: Thousands of migratory birds are killed every year by wind turbines. But wind turbines are one of President Barack Obama's favorite alternative fuels, so they are green. Therefore, although they kill birds they are green so they are good even though what they are doing may not be good."

THE FACTS: Gingrich appears to be using solid science here, and sounds much like bird conservation groups with this claim. The American Bird Conservancy has called the Fish and Wildlife Service's failure to go after bird deaths from wind turbines a "double standard." In 2008, a scientist with the service estimated that wind farms were killing 440,000 birds per year. Now there are even more wind turbines. The agency estimates that 500,000 to 1 million birds die annually in oil field pits and at waste facilities. Justice Department records show that while charges have been brought under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for birds killed by power lines, oil field waste pits and inaccurate pesticide applications by farmers, bird deaths by wind farms have so far escaped prosecution. So, too, have much larger sources of bird deaths such as automobile strikes, cat attacks and birds colliding with buildings, which could also be prosecuted under the law but aren't.

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GINGRICH: "The Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama has a proposal for a brand-new regulation that would, on average, raise the cost of gasoline another 25 cents."

THE FACTS: Gingrich is referring to a proposal to lower the sulfur content of gasoline, but the EPA has yet to come out with any such regulation. Gingrich gets his cost increase figure from a July 2011 study commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying group for the oil industry. The report concluded that gas prices could rise 12 to 25 cents, a range six senators cited in a letter to the EPA in January. Gingrich picks the high end of the range, which assumes the most stringent requirements. EPA officials say that even the low projection assumes actions that the agency has no plans of pursuing.

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Associated Press writers Matthew Daly in Washington and Jonathan Fahey in New York contributed to this report.

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Online:

Gingrich energy ad: http://bit.ly/yxULHt

Follow Dina Cappiello's environment coverage on Twitter (at)dinacappiello

Follow Matthew Daly's energy coverage on Twitter (at)MatthewDalyWDC

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