Environmental Group Critical of President Obama’s Natural Gas Push

Jan 25, 2012

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called on continued development of natural gas in the country, but he said it must be done in a way that protects the environment. This message didn't sit too well with PennEnvironment, a statewide environmental advocacy group. Clean Water Advocate Erika Staaf said natural gas isn't a clean energy, noting that the track record in Pennsylvania has been clear.

"We've seen the track record of the shale gas extraction industry in other states in other parts of the U.S., and the track record is a track record of pollution. We've seen too many leaks, too many spills, too many instances of contaminated surface water, so as it's done today, natural gas cannot be considered a clean source of energy," she said.

Energy In Depth (EID), the public relations arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said that accidents do occur, but not enough to mar an otherwise good track record.

"I think that there is an attempt to make it seem as though these events are normal operating procedure and they're not," said John Krohn, spokesperson for EID. "Hydraulic fracturing has been in place in this country since the Truman Administration and over 2.1 million wells have been hydraulically fractured."

Chemical Disclosure

The president called on the gas industry to fully disclose the chemicals it uses in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Krohn said that's already happening in Pennsylvania and beyond, thanks to fracfocus.org.

"Within eight months of implementation, there's already individual data on a well-by-well basis of the hydraulic fracturing fluids that are being used to stimulate natural gas wells in communities throughout the United States," he said.

Still, opponents say that won't make the process any more environmentally friendly.

"As we can see in Pennsylvania, which goes further than U.S. law requires in terms of disclosure of chemicals, sometimes toxic chemicals are used for gas extraction in Marcellus Shale. That sole policy hasn't done a lot to stop the spills of these toxic chemicals, so just the sheer disclosure of these chemicals isn't going to do a whole lot," Staaf said.

Krohn counters, "Some of these organizations that are now saying disclosure wouldn't make a difference are the same organizations that were requesting the Congress to pass federal legislation to require disclosure. Now that the industry is voluntarily doing that and reporting this information to communities, now that's not good enough."

Address a Mixed Bag

EID applauded the president's call to continue to develop natural gas. And PennEnvironment, said Staaf, was pleased with President Obama's call to further develop wind and solar energy.

Even with some environmental groups trying to discourage more natural gas development, it's unlikely to slow. In his address, the president said America's natural gas supply can last the country nearly 100 years and will support more than 600,000 jobs.

Matt Pitzarella is with Range Resources Corporation. He said the future of natural gas in the U.S. is as big and as bold as the industry wants it to be. He said the abundant natural gas supply is fast becoming the envy of the world.

"Natural gas is really the next progression, I think it's only a matter of time before natural gas becomes the primary fuel source for the rest of the world," he said.