Obama: Open 75% More US Land for Gas & Oil Drilling, "Double Down" on Clean Energy

White House/Public Domain

Obama's third State of the Union address went pretty much the way everyone thought it would (see my predictions here). The president established the economic 'fairness' theme that he'll hit on the campaign trail later this year, and tallied up his foreign policy triumphs. Indeed, he closed by invoking a sorta weird metaphor for America where we're all members of Seal Team Six or something, trudging through the darkness towards victory ...

Moving on. You've come for the energy and environment recap, and an energy environment recap ye shall receive. In fact, there's plenty to discuss, as Obama devoted a chunk of time to energy issues this year. Here are the highlights:

First off, Obama recycled the GOP's long-standing talking point about needing an "all of the above" approach to energy—a euphemistic way of saying we need to support oil, coal & gas, and renewable energy in theory, if time and budget permits.

From the speech:

Nowhere is the promise of innovation greater than in American-made energy. Over the last three years, we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I’m directing my Administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources. Right now, American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years. That’s right – eight years. Not only that – last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past sixteen years.

But with only 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves, oil isn’t enough. This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy – a strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs.

An interesting note: That 75% figure he cites may simply be the amount of land that's already scheduled for leasing to the oil and gas industries anyway.

Next, he delivered this crapper, a line trotted out by the natural gas industry and its supporters with alarming frequency:

We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly one hundred years, and my Administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy. Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade.

Neither of those facts are quite true. There's plenty of reason to believe that the '100 years of gas' figure is way too rosy (independent analysis puts it closer to 20), and that '600,000 jobs' stat comes from an industry-sponsored study.

The President did voice some support for clean energy too, of course:

In three years, our partnership with the private sector has already positioned America to be the world’s leading manufacturer of high-tech batteries. Because of federal investments, renewable energy use has nearly doubled. And thousands of Americans have jobs because of it ... Our experience with shale gas shows us that the payoffs on these public investments don’t always come right away. Some technologies don’t pan out; some companies fail. But I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy.

The best line of the speech came when Obama called for ending oil subsidies and instead supporting the clean energy sector:

We have subsidized oil companies for a century. That’s long enough. It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that’s rarely been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that’s never been more promising. Pass clean energy tax credits and create these jobs.

Amen to that.

The President did manage to work in a solitary reference to climate change, though he bungled the delivery. "The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight, er, climate change," he said, inspiring exactly no one to action.

Other noteworthy references included a brief defense of his mercury pollution regulations, which he rightfully noted protected the health of children. And he called for increased energy efficiency on an industrial scale, drawing impressed tweets and nods from energy wonks.

Like I said, there's a lot to unpack here. But the gist seems to be that Obama is again angling for a compromise on energy issues, trying to prove to conservatives and industry that he's oil and gas friendly, while dangling a clean energy carrot for progressives and environmentalists. What are your thoughts?

Tags: Barack Obama | Congress | Oil | United States