Obama Talks about Shale Gas in Energy Speech – MDN Analyzes His Remarks & His New Energy Plan

In a speech on Wednesday delivered at Georgetown University, President Obama outlined his Administration’s “Blueprint for A Secure Energy Future” (download a PDF copy of the Blueprint here). While a good deal of Obama’s solutions to America’s energy needs uses the heavy hand of the federal government to limit freedom and force people to make certain choices, he at least pays lip service to shale gas. Early on in his speech he said this:

In terms of new sources of energy, we have a few different options.  The first is natural gas.  As I mentioned earlier, recent innovations have given us the opportunity to tap large reserves – perhaps a century’s worth – in the shale under our feet.  Now, we have to make sure we’re doing it safely, without polluting our water supply.  And that’s why I’m asking my Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, to work with other agencies, the natural gas industry, states, and environmental experts to improve the safety of this process.  I don’t know if you’ve heard, but he’s got a Nobel Prize for physics, after all.  He likes to tinker on this stuff in his garage on the weekend.

But the potential here is enormous.  It’s actually an area of broad bipartisan agreement.  Last year, more than 150 Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle proposed legislation providing incentives to use clean-burning natural gas in our vehicles instead of oil.  They were even joined by T. Boone Pickens, a businessman who made his fortune on oil.  So I ask them to keep at it and pass a bill that helps us achieve this goal.(1)

In reading through the Blueprint, we find the following sections referring to shale gas and hydraulic fracturing, which provides more details about the Administration’s views.

(page 13)

Encouraging Responsible Development Practices for Natural Gas: Recent technology and operational improvements in extracting natural gas resources, particularly shale gas, have increased gas drilling activities nationally and led to significantly higher natural gas production estimates for decades to come. In order to take full advantage of this important domestic energy resource, we must proactively address concerns that have been raised regarding potential negative impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) practices. That is why the Administration is taking steps to address these concerns and ensure that natural gas production proceeds in a safe and responsible manner. Initiatives supported by the Administration include:

  • Disclosure of Fracking Chemicals: The Administration is calling on industry to be more transparent about the use of fracking chemicals.
  • Leading by Example: In April, DOI will hold a series of regional public meetings to discuss the potential for expanding shale gas production on Federal lands. These events will provide a forum to develop a framework for responsible production on public lands.
  • Research: The Federal government will conduct research to examine the impacts of fracking on water resources. At Congress’ direction, EPA will continue with its study of fracturing impacts on drinking water and surface water, and DOE will likewise sponsor research on these issues.
  • Setting the Bar for Safety and Responsibility: To provide recommendations from a range of independent experts, the Secretary of Energy, in consultation with the EPA Administrator and Secretary of Interior, should task the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) with establishing a subcommittee to examine fracking issues. The subcommittee will be supported by DOE, EPA and DOI, and its membership will extend beyond SEAB members to include leaders from industry, the environmental community, and states. The subcommittee will work to identify, within 90 days, any immediate steps that can be taken to improve the safety and environmental performance of fracking and to develop, within six months, consensus recommended advice to the agencies on practices for shale extraction to ensure the protection of public health and the environment.
  • Offering Technical Assistance to State Regulators: States exercise oversight of oil and gas drilling using delegated authority under Federal environmental laws and additional authorities under state law. Some have made more progress than others on enhancing protections to deal with the challenges of fracking. DOE and EPA are establishing a mechanism to provide technical assistance to states to assess the adequacy of existing state regulations. EPA will continue to perform a strong backstop role under Federal environmental laws and will take actions, as necessary, to protect public health and the environment.(2)

<Begin rant> Notice the sentence that says states exercise the right to oversee oil and gas drilling “using delegated authority under Federal environmental laws.” Sorry, but it’s the other way around. The U.S. Constitution I read says that the federal government has very limited powers, and all rights not specifically enumerated in the Constitution are reserved for “the individual states.” The states do not function as the federal government’s lapdog. And state regulators don’t need any “help” from the federal government in regulating their oil and gas activities. <End rant>

(page 15)

Expanding Natural Gas Production Worldwide: Although oil is used mostly for transportation in the U.S., this is not always the case in other countries. In developing economies especially, a lack of indigenous fuel or infrastructure often means that oil is used to generate electricity and fuel industrial processes. Following the development in the U.S. of new techniques for recovering shale gas, the State Department initiated the Global Shale Gas Initiative which assesses a country’s potential for shale gas production and assists governments in establishing the commercial arrangements and safety and environmental regulations that permit the beneficial development of this resource. The Energy Department is leading an Unconventional Gas Census for the Asia Pacific at the request of APEC energy ministers. These programs benefit both developing countries and the U.S. by moderating oil demand growth in these rapidly growing economies and facilitating fuel-switching to cleaner natural gas.(2)

<Begin observation> It’s interesting that our own State Department is actively pushing shale gas for other countries with a formal “initiative,” particularly for developing countries, yet some of our own citizens want to stop it in this country. <End observation>

(page 17)

Encouraging Fuel-Switching from Oil to Natural Gas: We will continue to work with countries under the Global Shale Gas Initiative and the APEC Unconventional Gas Census to encourage the safe production of natural gas and fuel-switching from oil to gas, as appropriate, in the production of electricity. We also plan to work under the auspices of the G-20 to prompt policies that increase transparency and efficiency of international natural gas markets. Increasing the liquidity of global gas markets can play an important role in ensuring reliable supplies of oil by moderating global demand for oil.(2)

<Begin observation> The theme of the speech, and indeed the entire energy Blueprint seemed to be, if I can summarize it, “Oil is bad, natural gas and other alternatives are good.” <End observation>

How about you? Any thoughts about Obama’s new energy policy? Share it in the comments.

(1) Atlanta Journal Constitution (Mar 30, 2011) – Obama Energy Speech

(2) The White House (Mar 30, 2011) – Blueprint for A Secure Energy Future