PITTSBURGH — President Barack Obama's speech this week on climate change forcefully rejected some key arguments made by opponents of natural gas fracking, upsetting some environmental groups that otherwise back his climate goals.
Obama, in his address Tuesday calling for urgent action to address climate change, praised what he called “cleaner-burning natural gas” and its role in providing safe, cheap power that he said also can help reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.
Regulators in many states with new drilling activity say fracking, a colloquial term for hydraulic fracturing, is being done safely and is essentially similar to the hundreds of thousands of oil and gas wells that have been drilled all over the nation.
The drilling boom has reduced oil and gas imports and generated billions of dollars for companies and landowners. Many scientists and environmental groups also agree with Obama's main point: that while there are some negative effects from natural gas, burning coal is far worse for the environment and public health. There's no dispute that natural gas burns far cleaner than coal, but its main component, methane, is a potent heat-trapping gas.
Some environmental groups advocate a total rejection of all fossil fuels and an all-out effort to switch to renewables such as wind turbines and solar panels. They also say people living close to drilling operations have suffered from too much pollution.
“When it comes to natural gas, the president is taking the wrong path,” Deb Nardone, the head of the Sierra Club's Beyond Natural Gas program, wrote in a blog post.
Robert Howarth, a Cornell University professor who argues that methane leaks from drilling negate other climate benefits of gas, said in an email to The Associated Press that he is “extremely disappointed in the President's position” and said the support for natural gas “is very likely to do more to aggravate global change than to help solve it.”
Advances in drilling, the president said, have “helped drive carbon pollution to its lowest levels in nearly 20 years,” and “we'll keep working with the industry to make drilling safer and cleaner, to make sure that we're not seeing methane emissions.”
“These critics seem to think that when we ask our businesses to innovate and reduce pollution and lead, they can't or they won't,” Obama added, mentioning that taking lead out of gasoline and the phaseout of ozone-depleting gases were examples of industry making needed changes.
The Sierra Club and some activists argue that fracking comes with unacceptable levels of air and water pollution.