Debate Comes Up Empty on Gasoline Prices

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Tuesday night's Presidential debate brought energy policy and gas prices into sharp focus, at least for a minute.

Both sides made some important points and both had exaggerations in their stories. But let's see what the real facts are.

A question emerged whether the U.S. government can or should try to control the price of gasoline, certainly a question that affects all of us and particularly powerful as a political question.

In broad strokes, Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, correctly pointed out that gas prices have doubled under the Obama administration and promised to lower them, although much of the policy changes he mentions would do little to help.

Even complete North American independence of crude oil, an unrealized wish of every administration since Richard Nixon, wouldn't help entirely relieve the U.S. of its participation in our global energy market. Under the financialized mess that the global oil markets have become, the U.S. consumer is forced to bear the burdens of Europe and China.

Complain if you want, but it's unfortunately true.

So domestic production is, at best, a partial answer to high gas prices but on this score there were some interesting points that were made last night:

Romney truthfully stated that production on federal lands was down, but President Obama correctly pointed out the 40,000 federal leases that have gone unexplored and undrilled and is largely why the Interior department has rescinded many of those leases.

Obama correctly stated that oil production in the United States is up -- specifically, by more than 1.5 million barrels a day since 2007, a turnaround in U.S. crude production that had been sloping downward for almost 25 years.

However, Romney was almost surely correct that those gains had been made mostly in spite of the current administration and not because of it. It has instead been the fast advance of new techniques to find and extract oil from new wells and extract more oil from old wells that has revitalized production here in the U.S.

There is little the President can point to that has helped develop and implement those technologies. In fact, his administration, for good or ill, has been mostly suspicious of them.

What neither candidate wants to touch, however, is the real way to get lower gas prices -- by reducing our dependence on gasoline as our transport fuel. We've got to get as far away from this global marketplace and into another, more domestic market for transport.

Natural gas is the most significant, domestic and immediate choice that could be made. In this, both candidates have claims to being better equipped.

Romney would certainly augment the production of natural gas through fracking, while Obama has shown more indications of passing government rebates and spending to promote natural gas infrastructure.

But neither candidate is ready to move against either the ensconced interests of the oil companies on one side, or the undereducated and panicky environmentalists praying for renewable energy as a primary source on the other.

Until they do, we likely should be prepared for $4 a gallon or $5 a gallon gas or even higher, no matter who wins the upcoming election.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Dan Dicker has been a floor trader at the New York Mercantile Exchange with more than 25 years of oil trading experience. He is a licensed commodities trade adviser.

Dan is currently President of MercBloc LLC, a wealth management firm and is the author of "Oil's Endless Bid", published in March of 2011 by John Wiley and Sons.

Dan Dicker has appeared as an energy analyst since 2002 with all the major financial news networks. He has lent his expertise in hundreds of live radio and television broadcasts on CNBC, Bloomberg US and UK and CNNfn.

Dan obtained a bachelor of arts degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1982.