President Obama wants to frack.
In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, Obama spoke optimistically about the bounty of unconventional natural gas under the eastern United States. “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years,” Obama said, “and my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy.”
This is good news, pretty much no matter where you land on the political spectrum. Burning natural gas produces a lot less air pollution than burning coal — and half the carbon emissions. It’s also cheap. Which means that fuel switching is economically attractive, it would immediately better Americans’ health, and it would give renewables and new nuclear time to catch up in the fight against global warming.
But environmentalists, who should want responsible natural gas development, have attacked the process by which energy companies obtain this unconventional natural gas. They say that hydraulic fracturing — better known as fracking — might taint drinking water or even cause earthquakes. Many want a moratorium.
The real answer is to press forward with exploiting this tantalizing resource while studying and curbing the side effects of extracting it — with intelligence, not reaction. Obama Tuesday night announced that his administration will require energy companies to disclose the chemical cocktails they use to fracture the subterranean shale in which the natural gas is trapped. This seems like a sensible place to start if you’re trying to promote careful natural gas production, instead of shutting it down.
That won’t satisfy anti-fracking activists. Then again, the environmental movement is so obsessed with the Keystone XL pipeline right now, it will probably let Obama’s heresy pass without too much distress.