- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Oil and gas industry leaders are urging President Obama to forgo tax increases in his second term and instead embrace more domestic energy production as a way to jump-start the economy and create jobs.

“Energy access, not taxes, is the key to unlocking new revenues for our government,” said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, in his annual “State of American Energy” address Tuesday afternoon.

His speech laid out numerous benefits that await the U.S. if the Obama administration and lawmakers commit to more drilling at home. At the top of the list is a serious possibility that the U.S. could become the world’s leader in oil and gas production in just more than a decade.

Being the production leader not only would free the nation from its dependence on foreign oil but would allow the U.S. to begin exporting oil and natural gas, creating a significant source of new revenue.

That scenario is closer than ever, with North America projected to become a net oil exporter in fewer than 20 years if current trends hold, according to recent research by the International Energy Agency.

“There is a new energy reality for the United States,” Mr. Gerard said. “The reality is that our energy supply is no longer limited, foreign and finite, but is now American and abundant, greatly enhancing our national security. … If we seize the opportunity now, we will be positioned to lead for decades and realize the economic and energy security benefits of that leadership.”

Mr. Gerard and other sector leaders have said they were encouraged by Mr. Obama’s pledge to support more domestic oil and gas exploration, which he repeated often during his 2012 re-election campaign.

Whether he’s serious, however, remains to be seen. Critics fear that, with his last election behind him, Mr. Obama will instead pursue environmental regulations that will greatly reduce American oil and gas drilling. He is encountering heavy pressure from environmental and conservation groups, as well as many congressional Democrats, to choose that route and choke off domestic fossil fuel production.

The first real signal as to which way he will go, Mr. Gerard said, is whether the White House approves the massive Keystone XL pipeline project, which could support tens of thousands of jobs and spur millions of dollars in economic activity by drawing on Canadian oil sands.

After delaying his decision for more than a year, Mr. Obama is nearing a choice to either green-light or kill the project once and for all.

“We’re hopeful that he’ll approve it. … I think it’ll be an early indication of the president’s commitment to what he promised the American people,” Mr. Gerard said. “We’re hopeful he’ll live up to what he promised.”

Environmental resistance to oil and gas drilling surely will remain a factor in the next four years, but the industry has begun to push back against the notion that it has done nothing to reduce carbon emissions and to help protect clean air and water. Mr. Gerard said that the sector has spent $71 billion over the past 10 years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a key policy goal of the Obama administration.

Even some Democrats now point out that the nation’s natural gas boom is playing a positive role in that effort, with carbon emissions down about 12 percent from 2007 to 2012. That’s largely because natural gas has begun to replace coal, which has a larger carbon footprint, in generating electricity.

“The recipe for U.S. carbon success includes more natural gas, renewable energy, energy efficiency. But central and unique to the U.S. success is massive shale gas production and the resulting low gas prices causing a substantial shift to electricity generated from lower-carbon gas and away from coal and oil,” said John Hanger, a Democrat who formerly led Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection and is running against Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in 2014.

In a recent post on his website, he defended the nation’s shale gas boom — which has exploded in Pennsylvania more than anywhere else — as beneficial not only for the American economy but also the environment.

“Only the U.S.A. has had a shale gas boom and only the U.S.A. has cut substantially its carbon emissions since 2006,” he said. “Cleaner and cheaper energy is a real American triumph.”

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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