Share This Page

Obama speech rankles fracking critics

| Saturday, June 29, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

President Obama's speech last week on climate change forcefully rejected some key arguments made by opponents of natural gas fracking, upsetting some environmental groups that otherwise back his climate goals.

Obama, in his address Tuesday calling for urgent action to address climate change, praised what he called “cleaner-burning natural gas” and its role in providing safe, cheap power that he said can also help reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.

Regulators in many states with heavy new drilling activity say fracking, a colloquial term for hydraulic fracturing, is being done safely and is essentially similar to the hundreds of thousands of oil and gas wells that have been drilled all over the nation.

The drilling boom has reduced oil and gas imports and generated billions of dollars for companies and landowners. Many scientists and environmental groups also agree with Obama's main point: that while there are some negative effects from natural gas, burning coal is far worse for the environment and public health. There's no dispute that natural gas burns far cleaner than coal, but its main component, methane, is a potent heat-trapping gas.

Some environmental groups advocate a total rejection of all fossil fuels and an all-out effort to switch to renewables such as wind turbines and solar panels. They also say people living close to drilling operations have suffered from too much pollution.

“When it comes to natural gas, the president is taking the wrong path,” Deb Nardone, the head of the Sierra Club's Beyond Natural Gas program, wrote in a blog post.

Robert Howarth, a Cornell University professor who argues that methane leaks from drilling negate other climate benefits of gas, said in an email to The Associated Press that he is “extremely disappointed in the President's position” and said the support for natural gas “is very likely to do more to aggravate global change than to help solve it.”

Not so, Obama said.

Advances in drilling, the president said, have “helped drive our carbon pollution to its lowest levels in nearly 20 years,” and “we'll keep working with the industry to make drilling safer and cleaner, to make sure that we're not seeing methane emissions.”

“These critics seem to think that when we ask our businesses to innovate and reduce pollution and lead, they can't or they won't do it,” Obama added, mentioning that taking lead out of gasoline and the phase-out of ozone-depleting gases were examples of the industry making needed changes.

The Sierra Club and some activists argue that fracking comes with unacceptable levels of air and water pollution and that “no state has adequate protections in place.”

Obama disagreed.

“The old rules may say we can't protect our environment and promote economic growth at the same time,” Obama said. “Don't tell folks that we have to choose between the health of our children or the health of our economy.”

Critics have claimed that the fracking boom just makes a few energy companies rich, and that average Americans get few benefits. But Obama responded by saying “The bottom line is natural gas is creating jobs. It's lowering many families' heat and power bills.”

Some environmental groups agree with Obama's position that switching from coal-fired power to natural gas has helped reduce emissions and protect the environment.

The Breakthrough Institute, an Oakland, Calif., think tank, said in a report released Wednesday that despite problems and legitimate concerns over fracking, the gas industry has “a far smaller impact on mortality and disease, landscapes, waterways, air pollution, and local communities than coal mining and coal burning.”

“Natural gas is a net environmental benefit at local, regional, national, and global levels,” the Breakthrough report said.

One Pennsylvania Democrat jumped to endorse Obama's plan. Gas from the Marcellus Shale formation there has led to a huge surge in drilling and production over the last five years.

Sen. Bob Casey said he plans to introduce legislation to place more natural gas fueling stations along Interstate highways. Casey said the plan could “help reduce emissions and create jobs.”

But some other Democrats were silent. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is trying to decide whether to allow fracking to begin in a small part of his state and is facing heavy opposition from some groups.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.