Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Short Sharp Science - Environmental fears may scupper Obama's energy vision

Peter Aldhous, San Francisco bureau chief
(Image: SIPA USA/SIPA/Rex Features)

Interactive graphic: "The shale gas boom"
US energy independence, especially through the expansion of natural gas production from deep shale beds, was a major theme of President Barack Obama's 2012 State of the Union address. Addressing both houses of Congress, he said:
"We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years, and my Administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy. Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade."
But as New Scientist reports this week, public fears about the health and environmental risks of "fracking", the method used to liberate gas from shale, could undermine those plans. Even though some scientists argue that the risks are overstated, growing opposition threatens to stall the expansion of shale gas production.
Obama's focus on shale gas was not surprising. In an election year, energy and the jobs associated with it are a major battleground. Obama is vulnerable to attacks on the issue following his rejection of plans to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have moved bitumen from the Alberta oil sands to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.
Republican opponents were quick to attack Obama's boasts that domestic oil and gas production have risen during his presidency. After the speech, California Representative Darrell Issa had this to say:
"It's just a blind accident, if in fact we are producing more oil or natural gas than in previous years, because it's not because of any of his efforts."
In his address, Obama talked of "a future where we're in control of our own energy", echoing an energy independence theme adopted by US presidents since Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. Can he succeed where all his predecessors have failed?

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