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State of the Union Speech Poses Major Challenge to Fracking Opponents

Natural Gas Looks to Have Bi-Partisan Establishment Support

President Obama’s State of the Union address was a mixed bag for environmentalists.

Official White House photo by Pete SouzaPresident Barack Obama talks with Jon Favreau, director of speechwriting, in the Oval Office a
day before his January 24 State of the Union address.

There were some expected disappointments, most obviously the president’s failure to mention climate change (perhaps the greatest threat facing humanity) except in passing. There were also some pleasant surprises, like the president’s defense of the EPA’s move to update mercury pollution rules, his commitment to use public lands and military installations to boost renewable energy production, his support for increasing energy efficiency as way of saving the economy money, and his call to slash fossil fuel subsidies and instead “double down” on clean energy tax credits.

The president’s commitment to put clean energy at the center of his broader platform to create “an economy built to last” is obviously welcomed. He seems serious about this, and, as his first campaign ad illustrated, the Obama 2012 team thinks this is a political winner.

But I’m worried about the White House’s definition of “clean energy.” It seems to think that natural gas would fit the bill. As the president put it: “The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don't have to choose between our environment and our economy.”

Yes, there was a nod to controversy over hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) technologies. The president said he would require “all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use.” He promised that “America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.” And the president did make a distinction, of sorts, between natural gas and renewables. (The line, “What's true for natural gas is true for clean energy” sets up a kind of contrast.)

But the takeaway is clear: The Obama Administration and, by extension, a good chunk of the Democratic Party establishment, view natural gas as the kinder, gentler fossil fuel. This is a hydrocarbon they can get behind. It’s not old-fashioned, like coal. It’s not disgusting and sticky and prone to spill, like oil. Why, it’s natural!

There are all sorts of reasons why that thinking is wrong and why we should remain skeptical about the promise of shale gas. For starters, the 100-year figure is probably off; just yesterday the Department of Energy revised downward its …more

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