AURORA – In Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama adopted a position on natural gas that could have come straight out of the mouth of John Hickenlooper, the petroleum geologist-turned-Colorado governor.
Obama called for public disclosure of fracking fluids while at the same time insisting the practice is safe and is key to America’s energy strategy.
“We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years. And my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy,” Obama said in the State of the Union.
He never directly mentioned hydraulic fracturing – a gas-extraction process that uses water, sand and chemicals to break rock formations – this week, but his aides made it clear that Obama believes fracking is safe.
“We have a good track record of this on our public lands. Fracking can be done safely and in environmentally responsible manner,” a senior Obama administration official told reporters Wednesday night, speaking on condition of anonymity.
At the same time, Obama told the Interior Department to require companies to reveal the chemicals they use in frack fluids.
It’s similar to a policy that Hickenlooper has been following for nearly a year.
Last summer, the Colorado governor issued an enthusiastic defense of fracking at a natural-gas industry conference, but he also called for a state rule to require companies to disclose their fluid contents.
The oil and gas commission adopted the rule in December, after the industry and its main critics agreed on a compromise.
But Obama’s new promotion of natural gas, which he continued Thursday in Colorado, has industry watchdogs concerned.
“It is alarming that he is sounding the call for national onshore and offshore drilling. We want to make it clear that we need rules of engagement,” said Gwen Lachelt, director of Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project, based in Durango.
Lachelt said Earthworks wants to invite Obama to tour a community in the gas patch, in addition to seeing drilling operations from the industry’s point of view.
“It’s also important to take the people’s oil and gas tour and see what it’s like living with oil and gas development,” she said.
Industry groups had differing opinions.
Tisha Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said she found the State of the Union encouraging.
“As he pointed out, we don’t have to choose between our economy and the environment. This is nowhere more apparent than in Colorado,” Schuller said, pointing to the state’s rules on frack fluids and water-quality monitoring.
But the Western Energy Alliance nailed Obama in a news release Tuesday.
“With delays, backlogs and duplicative analysis, there are thousands of jobs and billions in investment waiting on the sideline,” the group’s president, Tim Wigley, said.