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Policy: Environment & Energy

Obama boosts natural gas, Keystone pipeline in climate change speech

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In a speech on climate change to Georgetown University on Tuesday, President Obama touted his administration’s efforts to promote natural gas, including fracking, and strongly hinted that he would approve the Keystone XL pipeline project.

In the speech, Obama warned environmentalists that his clean energy projects would be limited in the near-term: “This does not mean we are going to suddenly stop producing fossil fuels. Our economy would not work very well if we did. Transitioning to a clean energy economy takes time.”

On Keystone, he said: “Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.”

Note that he said “net effects” and “significantly exacerbate.” There is a lot of wiggle room in those words and if earlier State Department reports are a guide, they seem to indicate that he will approve the project. Most prior indications also suggest he is leaning towards approving it. A recent report by the National Research Council said that the pipeline was no more dangerous than any other oil pipeline project.

Regarding natural gas, he first applauded power companies that have switched to “cleaner-burning natural gas instead of dirty fuel sources.” Then later in the speech he said:

Sometimes there are disputes about natural gas, but let me say this: 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. Federally-supported technology has helped our businesses drill more effectively and extract more gas. And I will keep working with the industry to make drilling safer and cleaner, to make sure that we are not seeing methane emissions and to put people to work modernizing our natural gas infrastructure so that we can power more homes and businesses with cleaner energy. The bottomline is natural gas is creating jobs. It is lowering many families’ 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 technology required for the even cleaner energy economy of the future.

That’s a pretty strong endorsement and one that suggests the president is going to allow fracking, the natural gas extraction process that has made the energy source so abundant, to continue. This has some environmentalists upset.

For more on the president’s stance on fracking, reading my column today.

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Sean Higgins

Senior Writer
The Washington Examiner