Obama position on fracking leaves both sides grumbling

McClatchy Washington BureauAugust 23, 2013 

US NEWS FRACKING-DOCTORS LA

A fracking operation takes place on leased farm land in Dimock, Pennsylvania in 2012.

CAROLYN COLE — Los Angeles Times/MCT

— President Barack Obama’s embrace of fracking is earning wrath from environmentalists but little love from the oil and gas industry.

Obama praised the U.S. natural gas boom in a recent climate change speech and credited it with delivering cleaner energy. The boom is a result of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which chemical-spiked water is pumped underground to free oil and natural gas trapped in shale rock.

The Obama administration’s proposed fracking rules say companies don’t have to disclose the chemicals used until after the drilling is finished. More than 175,000 public comments were posted on the new rules on Friday, the last day for the public to weigh in.

Environmental activists like David Braun said they volunteered for Obama’s election campaign and now feel like the president is turning their backs on them.

“It’s time for him to represent those who elected him, not big oil and gas,” said Braun, an anti-fracking organizer from New York. “While it’s admirable that the president wants to tackle climate change, fracking has no place in any plan to combat it.”

Anti-fracking protesters greeted Obama on Friday as he toured upstate New York to promote a college affordability plan. A large number lined the road into Obama’s town hall event at Binghamton University with signs, some saying “No Fracking Way.”

New York state is embroiled in a debate over whether to lift its moratorium on fracking. Hydraulic fracturing supporters also turned out on Obama’s route on Friday to speak up for fracking.

The Obama administration’s proposed new fracking rules cover federal lands. The administration hopes they can also be a model for state regulations on private lands, where most fracking occurs.

The rules would set standards for integrity of wells and managing polluted water that flows back to the surface. It’s the first big attempt at federal oversight of the fracking boom sweeping across the country.

Oil and gas companies are bristling at the rules, which they say will mean $354 million a year in added costs. The federal Bureau of Land Management estimates the cost will be closer to $20 million. The Oklahoma-based oil industry analyst Spears & Associates estimates the North American fracking market at more than $30 billion in 2012.

Industry advocates of fracking said the states already do a good job of oversight and Obama shouldn’t step in.

“This industry is leading an economic renaissance in America,” said Erik Milito of the American Petroleum Institute trade group. “There is no sound legal or environmental reason to jeopardize that growth with regulatory confusion and uncertainty.”

Environmental impacts of fracking are in dispute. Studies have linked methane in some water wells to fracking, and there is a growing body of research tying modest earthquakes to deep disposal of fracking waste. The results of an Environmental Protection Agency study on the potential for groundwater contamination aren’t expected until 2016.

Obama praises natural gas from fracking for economic and environmental benefits. The fracking boom led to cheap U.S. natural gas. As a result, utilities are switching to it from the more polluting coal.

“We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions,” Obama said in his recent climate change speech.

But natural gas produces the potent greenhouse gas methane. Researchers are trying to figure out how much methane is leaked from wells, pipelines and compressor plants.

Email: scockerham@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @seancockerham

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