Energy / Environment

“Bad Romance”: Shale Gas Boom and the Emergence of Strange Alliances

Shale gas discoveries has proliferated in the United States as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, a relatively new technology, has allowed an efficient way to extract shale gas, producing a cheaper and cleaner source of energy than coal.  The shale gas boom happening in the United States which has resulted in an economy-boosting decrease in gas prices has not been welcome by everyone.  Instead, it has sparked a lot of controversies leading to the emergence of many strange alliances.

Obama and Cheney

Pro-environmental and anti-fracking groups view Barack Obama and Dick Cheney as allies.  The reason for this is that it is alleged that Dick Cheney masterminded the exemption of fracking (the enhanced technology used to drill shale gas) from the Safe Drink Water Act (SDWA) when he was Vice President.  On the other hand, President Obama has been referred to as a pro-natural gas advocate because he mentioned in his State of the Union Address that he supports the development of natural gas as a cleaner fuel that will help reduce climate change.

Also, in a speech he delivered at Georgetown University, President Obama reiterated his support for natural gas when he said, “And again, sometimes there are disputes about natural gas, but we should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium-term at least, it can provide not only safe, cheap power, but it can only help reduce our carbon emissions.” This outraged environmental groups and pro-coal groups as well.

Environmental Groups and Pro-Coal Groups

Environmental groups are pressuring natural gas lobbyists to protect the environment and they think that the President is not taking the climate debate seriously by being pro-natural gas, which to them increases climate change.  Their actions has attracted an unnatural ally in a “bad romance” because they have joined forces with pro-coal groups who attack Obama’s energy policies, not because they want to protect the environment, but because they want the continuous dependence on coal.

Recent studies revealed that natural gas burns cleaner than coal and may be more affordable than coal, igniting debate on whether to replace coal with natural gas .  Moreover, the Obama Administration just released an ambitious climate change regulation for future power plants which pro-coal groups have termed as “Obama continuous war on coal.”

Seemingly similar interests are causing pro-coal organizations to join forces with anti-fracking groups to fight fracking as a threat to the environment and to coal.  Most people believe those who oppose fracking care about the environment; but when pro-coal Congressmen support anti-frackers , one can oppose fracking without caring about the environment.

It should not be surprising to find the names of pro-coal supporters on donor lists of anti-fracking organizations, especially with the emergence of groups like the Green Tea Party Coalition.

Industrial Gas Users and Environmentalists

As the Obama administration starts approving liquefied natural gas (LNG) permits and promise to continue to push the review of permits forward, industrial gas users are attempting to stall because they are worried that exports will cause prices of natural gas to increase.  As a result, they have joined forces with those who oppose fossil fuels and fracking to form alliances to obstruct the process.  Mark Maddox of The Hill referred to such a union as an “unholy alliance.”

Like the recent marriage between the United States and Russia over Syria, the union between environmentalists and pro-coal groups is not different.  It is just a “marriage of convenience” and a “bad romance”.  Like any “bad romance”, a nasty divorce is imminent.  Instead of expending resources to form short-term unions, these groups should work together and spend those resources on research and development to achieve clean and affordable energy.  This can only be achieved if politics and self-serving interests are replaced by a more realistic and practical debate.

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