WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday made the strongest pitch of his presidency for natural gas, calling for the nation's vast reserves to be put to more use in vehicles, homes and factories.
Speaking in Las Vegas, the president said the United States was the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas.”
“We've got to take advantage of this incredible natural resource,” he said.
“Think about an America where more cars and trucks are running on domestic natural gas than on foreign oil. Think about an America where our companies are leading the world in developing natural gas technology and creating a generation of new energy jobs; where our natural gas resources are helping make our manufacturers more competitive for decades. We can do this.”
Obama said the federal government would help local governments upgrade to fleets of natural gas vehicles, and he called for tax incentives for companies that buy natural gas trucks.
Also, the president said the government would continue working with the private sector to develop natural gas corridors in which refueling stations would be established between designated cities. The president made his comments at a UPS facility that uses natural gas vehicles.
The president did not specifically endorse legislation sponsored by some Oklahoma lawmakers and backed by energy investor T. Boone Pickens to spur more production of natural gas vehicles.
Pickens, who noted that Obama is also calling for more wind and solar power, which were part of the Pickens Plan rolled out in 2008, said Thursday, “While we can take a victory lap, the work is not done.
“It's great to see the president engaging in important and meaningful dialogue on this subject. But proposals are not enacted policies. The pressure needs to remain on. We can't let the special interests do what they've done for 40 years, and that's block a long-term energy plan for America.”
Rep. John Sullivan, R-Tulsa, the lead author of the bill to encourage natural gas vehicle production said, “Thank you Mr. President for finally realizing that using the cleaner, cheaper, more abundant and American-made natural gas under our feet is a good idea.
“I have a bipartisan bill in Congress with over 180 co-sponsors to make this transportation goal a reality. The NAT GAS Act offers a bold new direction for American energy security by using American-made natural gas to power our transportation fleets instead of OPEC oil.”
The president's comments came on the same day natural gas future prices dropped after a government report showing a huge supply in storage. Chesapeake Energy recently announced that it would cut back on natural gas production.
The president also announced Thursday that the administration would soon open for leasing about 38 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas exploration. The sale will include all available areas in the Central Planning Area offshore Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
The American Petroleum Institute said the lease sale was part of a plan already in place and that federal projections show production in the Gulf will be down 20 percent this year compared to 2010.