In his State of the Union speech, President Obama made no mention of his controversial decision to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline, but shifted his focus to shale gas development, another contentious topic where the promise of badly needed near-term jobs clashes with widespread fears of environmental damage.
“We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years, and my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy,” he said. “Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.”
Residents in key swing states like Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina, which sit atop potentially vast shale gas formations, are deeply divided about whether shale gas can be developed safely.
The energy industry uses a controversial method called hydraulic fracturing to tap the gas reservoirs, injecting at high pressure chemically laced water and sand to break the shale formations and unlock the hydrocarbons.
Proponents of the shale gas development say that it can create jobs and broaden the tax base in often-beleaguered small towns. Critics have said that the risks of hydraulic fracturing -- known as fracking -- are not fully understood and that in some areas, like Dimock, Pa., it has led to contamination of underground aquifers.
Obama tried to allay concerns about fracking, saying that he would call for the full disclosure of chemicals used in fracking on public lands. But that promise will do little to quell the debate, as most fracking is done on privately owned land.