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A Transitional Fuel Folly

Obama’s Love Affair With Fracking

by STEVE HORN

Yesterday, President Barack Obama announced his administration’s “Climate Action Plan” for cutting carbon pollution in his second term in the Oval Office at Georgetown University and unfortunately, it’s a full-throttle endorsement of every aspect of fracking and the global shale gas market.

Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is the toxic horizontal drilling process via which gas is obtained from shale rock basins around the world, and touting its expanded use flies in the face of any legitimate plan to tackle climate change or create a healthy future for children.

Here is what President Obama said yesterday at Georgetown about natural gas and fracking:

“Now even as we’re producing more domestic oil, we’re also burning more clean-burning natural gas than any country on earth. And again, sometimes there are disputes about natural gas, but we should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because in the medium-term at least, it can provide not only safe cheap power, but it can only help reduce our carbon emissions.

Federally-supported technology has helped our businesses drill more effectively and extract more gas. And now we’ll keep working with the industry to keep making drilling cleaner and safer, make sure that we’re not seeing methane emissions, and to put people to work, modernizing our modern infrastructure so that we can power more homes and businesses with cleaner energy. The bottom line is natural gas is creating jobs, it’s lowering many familes’ heat and power bills and it’s the transition fuel that can power our economy with less carbon pollution, even as our businesses work to develop and then deploy more of the even cleaner technology for the energy economy of the future.”

The “Fact Sheet” announcing the Plan further explains:

We have a moral obligation to leave our children a planet that’s not polluted or damaged, and by taking an all-of-the-above approach to develop homegrown energy and steady, responsible steps to cut carbon pollution, we can protect our kids’ health and begin to slow the effects of climate change so we leave a cleaner, more stable environment for future generations.”

This portion of the plan alone – not to mention anything else problematic found within it, such as endorsement of nuclear energy and illusory “clean coal”/carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology – would prevent the actions outlined in his Fact Sheet from taking place.

In fact, children’s health and air quality nationwide are directly threatened by the promotion of further fracking and natural gas drilling activity. There is a clear disconnect between the president’s stated commitment to a healthy future for children, and the vast expansion of natural gas drilling and fracking, which are scientifically proven to be polluting the air and drinking water of Americans.

“Burning natural gas is about one-half as carbon-intensive as coal, which can make it a critical ‘bridge fuel’ for many countries as the world transitions to even cleaner sources of energy,” reads the plan.

That premise is false. When measured in its entire life cycle – as Cornell University researchers found - fracked gas is actually dirtier than coal and therefore is a bridge to nowhere other than extreme climate disruption. That’s due to fugitive methane emissions, conveniently left out of the climate plan: methane is a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide.

Endorsement of Shale Gas Exports, Global Fracking Development, Pickens Plan

Obama’s plan also boasts about bringing the U.S. model for fracking abroad through the U.S. State Department’s Global Shale Gas Initiative, now called the Unconventional Gas Technical Engagement Program.

“We have launched the Unconventional Gas Technical Engagement Program to share best practices on issues such as water management, methane emissions, air quality, permitting, contracting, and pricing to help increase global gas supplies and facilitate development of the associated infrastructure that brings them to market,” the plan further explains.

Further locking in demand for fracking, the Obama climate plan also fully endorses T. Boone Pickens’ “Pickens Plan,” helping create a domestic market for natural gas vehicles, particularly for 18-wheelers. The plan also endorses shale gas exports.

“Going forward, we will promote fuel-switching from coal to gas for electricity production and encourage the development of a global market for gas. Since heavy-duty vehicles are expected to account for 40 percent of increased oil use through 2030, we will encourage the adoption of heavy duty natural gas vehicles as well,” the fracked gas portion of the plan concludes.

“Gasland 2″ Director Josh Fox and Mark Ruffalo Weigh In on the Plan

Sarah Palin, Republican Party Vice Presidential candidate for President in 2008 – who famously chanted “drill baby, drill” at a campaign rally – once was described this way by then-candidate Obama before the 2008 election: “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.”

These two statements are pearls of wisdom as it applies to the Obama climate change plan’s endorsement of fracking. “Gasland 2″ Producer and Director Josh Fox agrees with the sentiment.

“Without reducing total production, which would require him to really take on the fossil fuel industries and have a real fight with them, this plan is not going to do anything to solve the problem,” Fox told DeSmogBlog. “Cutting the overall emissions from power plants, but not cutting overall production of coal and gas, makes the problem worse. It’s like switching from Marlboro to Camel cigarettes, instead of just quitting.”

Actor/director Mark Ruffalo, a spokesperson for Americans Against Fracking, also weighed in:

“President Obama deserves praise for prioritizing climate change, but if he’s serious he needs to start by rejecting fracking for oil and gas. Fracking is a dangerous and toxic drilling process that greatly exacerbates climate change and threatens to put us over the edge. 400 ppm is a game changer that requires President Obama stand up to the oil and gas industry. We have clean and abundant wind, water, and solar alternatives that can power the entire U.S. and individual states, according to studies, with existing technologies at equivalent or lower costs than conventional fuels. President Obama can’t claim to seriously address climate change and expand fracking for oil and gas – that’s a stark contradiction.”

Steve Horn is a Madison, WI-based freelance investigative journalist and Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog, where this piece originally appeared.