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Environmental Working Group

During the 2012 State of the Union address, President Obama appeared ready to throw the full support of his administration behind the expansion of natural gas drilling operations throughout the country, largely ignoring the outrage and worry expressed by those in affected communities.

Heather White, Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) chief of staff and general counsel issued this statement:

“We welcome the president’s leadership that natural gas companies should disclose the chemicals they are injecting during drilling operations on public lands. But, that isn’t going to be enough to satisfy grassroots outrage about the David versus Goliath battles in which local communities find themselves pitted against giant drilling companies. People are worried about their water, their health and the value of their property after drilling. They are beset by frenzied leasing requests from natural gas “land men” and in some cases, experiencing drilling-related earthquakes. These communities have deep, long-term concerns about the environmental and financial impacts of natural gas drilling in key battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado and North Carolina. Yet it seems to us the White House has missed this political reality in its fervor over natural gas drilling.

“We’re alarmed that President Obama cited the industry’s inflated job numbers and natural gas supply numbers and that he used fracking as an example of a government success story when his administration has launched at least two studies into the safety of the gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

“The banking industry has set a powerful example of what can happen when, as the president said, ‘regulators had looked the other way, or didn’t have the authority to stop bad behavior.’ The natural gas industry enjoys exemptions from major environmental laws like the federal Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. We can’t let these big, unregulated conglomerates determine our sense of fair play or our energy future.

“This natural gas policy may undermine what the president says is the most important mission of our time—‘the basic American promise that if you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement.’ Ask the folks with whom EWG has spoken—and they’ll tell you what happened to them—unregulated fracking destroyed that promise.”

In a report entitled Gas Drilling Doublespeak, published last month, EWG documented that gas drilling companies routinely warned their investors of a litany of possible disasters—such as leaks, spills, explosions, bodily injury and even death—but regularly failed to mention these risks when persuading landowners to sign leases for drilling rights.

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Stefanie Penn Spear

President Obama's State of the Union address could perhaps best be described as the good, the bad and the ugly. Obama wants to generate American-made energy and set a clean energy standard that encourages investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency. Good. But Obama continues to tout extreme fossil fuel extraction as a solution to our energy needs. Bad. And it's still business as usual with the highly subsidized oil, gas and coal industries continuing to externalize their costs on the American people. Ugly.

In his address Obama focused on the need for "American-made energy." He first mentioned that he will be directing his administration "to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources." Realizing that this resource only contains 2 percent of the world's oil reserves, he quickly added that, "This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy. A strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper and full of new jobs."

Obama then directs his attention to natural gas development and its claimed potential to provide nearly 100 years of supply. He follows this up with a promise that he will be, "requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use," and that, "America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk."

He praises the government for the public research dollars that were allocated over the course of 30 years that helped develop the technologies to extract natural gas out of shale rock and stresses how "government support is critical in helping businesses get new energy ideas off the ground."

He mentions how the last three years of federal investments has positioned America to be the world's leading manufacturer of high-tech batteries and the renewable energy industry to nearly double, creating thousands of American jobs.

As we've heard from Obama before, he said the century-long subsidizes to the oil companies need to stop. Instead, we need to "double-down on a clean energy industry that never has been more promising. Pass clean energy tax credits. Create these jobs."

And then yes, Obama did mention the words climate change. He said he realizes the two political parties may not be ready "to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change," but that Congress needs at the very least to "set a clean energy standard that creates a market for innovation."

The need for energy efficiency was not overlooked, with Obama saying that we need to "help manufacturers eliminate energy waste in their factories and give businesses incentives to upgrade their buildings."

So with all that was said in Obama's State of the Union address, where does the "American-made energy" really get us?

Although there were no specifics in the address as to where the additional 75 percent of offshore oil and gas drilling will take place, the Obama Administration proposed in January an offshore oil drilling plan for the next five years that would allow drilling in the pristine Arctic Ocean and more drilling in the Gulf of Mexico before adequate safety standards are in effect.

He also never mentioned the Gulf residents that are still dealing with significant health problems attributed to the Gulf oil spill and the spraying of the dispersant Corexit.

After reading the U.S. Energy Information Adminstration's 2012 energy outlook report released on Monday, it's clear that the  promise of long-term energy supply from natural gas is not quite the dream people want it to be.  In the report, the U.S. Energy Department cut its estimate for natural gas reserves in the Marcellus shale formation by 66 percent, citing improved data on drilling and production, and stated that about 141 trillion cubic feet of gas can be recovered from the Marcellus shale using current technology, down from the previous estimate of 410 trillion. The report also said the estimated Marcellus reserves would meet U.S. gas demand for about six years, using 2010 consumption data, down from 17 years in the previous outlook.

The groundwater contamination happening across the U.S. from drilling for natural gas, combined with the challenges of what to do with the toxic fracking wastewater, a byproduct of drilling, makes me wonder how Obama is going to allow the natural gas industry to significantly grow without "putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk." Youngstown, Ohio has now experienced 11 earthquakes since March of 2011, including a 4.0 magnitude on New Year's Eve, with experts showing a link between the earthquakes and high-pressure liquid injection of fracking wastewater into wells related to oil and gas exploration and production.

Now the part of his speech that I can completely get behind is the need to "set a clean energy standard that creates a market for innovation," and the energy efficiency plans to eliminate energy waste in factories and provide incentives to upgrade buildings.

Three years ago Congress was debating an energy bill that would have put into place a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard mandating that a certain percentage of electricity come from renewable energy by a particular year, something like 25 percent by 2025. A carbon tax would have been included in the legislation and our country would have taken the first necessary steps to move beyond extreme fossil fuel extraction and invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that would have put Americans back to work, creating green jobs and working toward a sustainable energy policy.

The energy bill was far from perfect, but it would have been a step in the right direction. Since then, we have taken at least 10 steps backward. We have continued to blow up the top of mountains in our nation's Appalachian region, which has displaced communities, poisoned our water and air, and made people sick.

Even with the tragedy of the BP oil spill and impacts it's still having on Gulf coast communities, Obama plans to expand offshore oil drilling and allow leases in some of the most pristine and remote waters on the planet.

And, we are still providing subsidizes to this industry that continues to show record profits each quarter. For example, the five biggest oil companies—BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell—announced a combined $36 billion in profits in the second quarter of 2011. Exxon alone pulled in $10.7 billion. In the third quarter, it was much of the same. The five companies made another $32.6 billion in profits, with Exxon at $10.3 billion.

So yes, I'm glad Obama mentioned climate change, albeit only once, and the need for a clean energy standard that will help create a market for innovation and investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency, but right now talk is cheap. We are in desperate need of leadership that can move us toward a sustainable energy policy that will support clean, renewable sources of energy that won't create another boom-bust cycle from which many coal communities are still trying to recover from.

For a century the oil, gas and coal industries have been getting Americans' hard earned income tax money to provide energy to this country. The natural gas industry has benefited from 30 years of taxpayer money to now be able to drill holes across the U.S. and pollute our waterways. It's time we stop supporting these extreme fossil fuel extraction industries and invest in ways to use less energy and generate energy from cleaner, renewable sources of power.

Stay tuned to EcoWatch.org as we will keep you up-to-date on these energy issues. Be sure to visit our energy page to stay up on the latest.


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National Wildlife Federation

By Miles Grant

With President Obama set to delivers his State of the Union address tonight at 9 p.m. ET, the speech and Congress’ reaction to it will be a first step towards determining America’s conservation and energy agenda in 2012: Will America invest in a clean economy that creates jobs, cuts pollution and protects public health, or continue our dependence on dirty fuels that threaten wildlife, weaken our energy security, and deliver massive profits for big polluters?

In 2011, Congress repeatedly targeted conservation programs that protect America’s clean water, clean air, healthy rivers, lakes and shorelines teeming with wildlife, benefits that every American has a right to enjoy. At the same time, Congress protected tax giveaways for coal, oil and gas special interests totaling billions of dollars.

Will we hear a different tune in 2012? Some key issues to consider in advance of President Obama’s State of the Union address:

  • Keystone XL tar sands pipeline: Big Oil and its Congressional allies tried to ram this pipeline down the throats of American families in their insatiable appetite for more profits, forcing President Obama into a decision even before a final route was mapped out. Keystone XL is a scam—Canada would get the jobs, China would get the oil, and America would get spills of toxic tar sands oil. House Speaker John Boehner said on Sunday he may once again hold a critical payroll tax extension hostage in an attempt to force approval of the pipeline over concerns from Nebraska landowners and safety regulators.
  • Clean Air Act limits on mercury and carbon pollution: The House took an incredible 191 anti-environment votes in 2011, but new limits on mercury pollution (rolled out last month) and carbon pollution (due this year) have survived the assaults. The new mercury standard will not only prevent 11,000 thousand premature deaths, it will support 46,000 new short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term utility jobs. The first-ever carbon standard is an important step towards holding polluters accountable for their emissions, creating a more level playing field to give a fair shot to America’s expanding clean econom, which already supports 2.7 million jobs.
  • New fuel efficiency standards: American businesses, labor, conservation and consumer groups have all gotten behind the Obama administration’s stronger fuel efficiency standards that cut pollution, build jobs, save families and businesses money and enhance America’s security.  With big benefits across the board, it’s no surprise that the most recent survey by consumer reports found that 93 percent of the public supports stricter fuel economy standards.
  • Renewable energy tax credits: Despite the economic struggles, 2011 was a banner year for clean energy, with global investment surging to a record $260 billion according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Congress can ensure continued growth simply by extending existing renewable energy tax credits, which would create and sustain 54,000 jobs within the next four years according to Navigant Consulting and represent just a fraction of the subsidies Congress feeds to the coal, gas and oil industries.
  • Clean Water Act restoration: Clean water protections have been weakened by two Supreme Court decisions that ignored congressional intent and narrowly interpreted the scope of waters covered by the Act, putting in doubt pollution safeguards for many vital wetlands, lakes and streams. Restoring the Clean Water Act would help protect the $122 billion outdoor recreation economy and over 1 million outdoor recreation jobs supported by hunters, anglers, and other Americans who enjoy the outdoors.
  • Gulf Coast restoration (RESTORE Act): Under current law, BP and others responsible for the Gulf oil disaster must pay Clean Water Act penalties for each barrel of oil spilled into the gulf, but without action from Congress, this money will go towards unrelated federal spending instead of restoring the area damaged by the spill. Will the White House and Congress make this urgent legislation a priority?

In 2012, Washington has a chance to restore not just fiscal balance to our budget, but moral purpose to America’s future. Future generations will judge us on the legacy that we leave behind.  We must not turn back the clock and say we can’t afford clean air and water for our children and grandchildren.

The National Wildlife Federation’s four million supporters from across the political spectrum want clean energy and they want leaders who’ll face down special interests to deliver it. President Obama has shown he’s willing to stand up to oil lobbyists to safeguard clean water, clean air and wildlife to create a better, stronger, healthier America. Is Congress willing to do the same?

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