President Obama in his State of the Union address Jan. 24 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.” On Jan. 27, he effused before a crowd in Las Vegas: “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly a hundred years, Developing it could power our cars, our homes and our factories in a cleaner and cheaper way. And experts believe it could support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade… We, it turns out, are the Saudi Arabia of natural gas. We’ve got a lot of it…. We only have about 2% of the world’s oil reserves. So we’ve got to have an all-out, all-in, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every source of American energy.” While Obama did not explicitly invoke hydraulic fracturing, this amounts to an endorsement of the controversial practice. The Bureau of Land Management estimates 90% of natural gas drilling on public lands involves “fracking,” in which a mixture of chemicals, sand and water is injected into shale formations to open fissures and allow gas to come to the surface. (Bloomberg, LAT, Gannett, Jan. 26)
Journalist Peter Gorman reports in the Fort Worth Weekly this week about growing concerns about grave health effects from fracking-polluted water on both livestock and people in parts of the country where the practice is widespread. Encana gas company in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin is now supplying drinking water to anyone in the area who requests it, following a 2009 EPA study finding that 11 private wells in the town of Pavillion were found to have traces of contaminants, including methane, oil and metals.
On the heels of his denial of a permit for the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, Obama appears to be following in the footsteps of all of his predecessors since Nixon in emphasizing North American energy-independence in response to fears of Middle East instability and military quagmires. Nixon dubbed the policy, unveiled after the 1973 oil shock, “Project Independence.” (Time, Sept. 2, 1974) At that time, the National Academy of Sciences floated a proposal for turning the energy-rich lands of the American West into “National Sacrifice Areas” to be plundered for their resources. (See Struggle for the Land by Ward Churchill, 2002)
The more things change, it seems, the more they stay the same…