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out the 40,000 federal leases that have gone unexplored and undrilled and is largely why the Interior department has rescinded many of those leases.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.