President Barack Obama hinted today he would approve increased exports of fracked natural gas to Europe, amid fervent opposition from environmentalists who are key to his 2014 election plans.
Europe is too dependent on gas exports from Russia, so a greater exports of U.S. natural gas “would be very good for the Europe Union, it would be good for the United States [but] it is not something that could happen overnight,” Obama told reporters at a Wednesday press conference in Brussels, Belgium.
Thar mention of “overnight” may be a political escape hatch for Obama.
It suggests that Obama may simultaneously endorse greater exports while also slow-rolling industry’s requests for licenses to build the large and expensive port facilities needed for ships that can carry natural gas to Europe.
That tactic would help him to fend off Republican and industry pressure for export licenses, claim credit for helping Europe and mollify the environmentalists he needs to turn out in November.
The GOP is already hitting Obama for blocking construction of the XL pipeline, and is calling on him to approved easier exports of natural gas. Both proposals are popular among the public and the blue-collar voters.
The prospect of increased natural-gas exports from the United States was applauded by Jose Barroso, the current president of the European Commission, which is an government-appointed ruling body of the multinational European Union.
Greater exports would be “good news news,” he said, adding that the extraction of natural gas from shale rock “is a blessing for the world.”
Obama’s administration has approved some of the many license requests from companies seeking to export natural gas via ship.
But industry officials complain that officials are stalling on licenses-requests, which are opposed by environmental groups that are eager to choke the world’s energy use.
Environmentalists in the United States and Europe fear that greater energy use could alter the world’s temperature and climate. The claim still unproven, and world temperatures have not risen significantly in the last 15 years.
In Brussels, Obama tried to reduce the political backlash from environmentalists, by endorsing fracking in Europe and by suggesting that fracked natural gas is less of a problem than other energy sources.
“It is useful for Europe to look at its own energy assets as well as how the United States can supply additional energy,” he said.
“Just as there is no easy, free, simple way to defend ourselves, there’s no perfect, free, ideal, cheap energy sources,” he said.
“Every possible energy source has some inconveniences or downsides, and I think that the European Union collectively is going to need to examine…. their energy policies to find are there additional ways they can diversify and accelerate energy independence.”
“We’ve been blessed by some incredible resources… but we’ve also also made some choices,” Obama said.
In the United States, natural gas companies have evaded Obama’s curbs on carbon energy by exploiting gas fields found on land regulated by the states, such as Pennsylvania.
Fracking for natural gas on federal land needs approval from federal agencies, which have not been as supportive as state agencies.
In prior statements, Obama has tried to give the federal government credit for developing fracking technology.
“The [U.S.] marketplace needed a nudge,” Obama said at a January 2012 meeting of his jobs and competitiveness council. “Folks are acting as if that [boon] just sprung out of thin air and is one more example of the dynamism of the marketplace,” he complained to the executives.
In fact, that technology was developed over decades by companies and entrepreneurs, with some support from federal science agencies.