By David Skolnick
President Barack Obama has put obstacles in the path of the natural gas and oil industry and is looking to end the use of coal for energy, says Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
“My view is entirely different than his,” Romney said. “I think if we aggressively pursue our natural gas and coal and oil resources, they will be in abundance and relatively cheap. You’ll see manufacturing return to America from offshore.”
Romney recently answered questions about energy during a one-on-one interview with a Vindicator reporter in Brunswick, a community in Medina County.
With the oil and gas industry boom in the state, including the Mahoning Valley, and the importance of coal to Ohio’s economy, energy is one of the key issues in this year’s presidential election.
Obama issued an executive order in April to create a federal interagency group to develop a plan for safe and responsible gas development, including fracking.
Fracking is a process in which water, chemicals and sand are blasted into rocks thousands of feet below the ground to unlock natural gas and oil.
“My concern has been there’s been nine different federal agencies all trying to insert themselves into the fracking regulation and it has convinced some employers that natural gas in abundant supply will not be reliable in this country,” Romney said.
When asked about Romney’s statement on the number of federal agencies involved in gas development, his campaign pointed to Obama’s April executive order that calls for high-level officials from at least 13 federal agencies to be a part of the interagency group.
As for concerns from employers about natural gas, Romney said a high-ranking official with Dow Chemicals Co. told him the company decided not to build in Oklahoma and instead go “offshore because they were worried about the reliable supply of natural gas given the current administration’s intrusion into fracking regulation.”
As for concerns about supply, the Western Reserve Transit Authority is considering adding natural-gas vehicles to its fleet, said Matthew Kotanchek, its director of maintenance.
“There has been nothing political that has caused concerns about supply,” he said.
Federal laws are needed for safety oversight for coal mining and fracking, Romney said.
“There’s a very legitimate and important role that [the federal] government plays in setting the table for the economy to work,” he said. “Traditionally, fracking regulation has been managed at the state level and has worked well.”
In response, Jessica Kershaw, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, said: “Mitt Romney’s rhetoric on energy is dishonest and misleading.”
With Obama as president, domestic oil and natural-gas production have gone up every year with oil production reaching an eight-year high and natural-gas production reaching an all-time high in 2011, Kershaw said.
“President Obama believes natural gas is an important part of our all-of-the-above energy strategy, and he’s committed to developing its production in a safe and responsible way,” she said.
With Obama as president, drilling on federal lands has decreased, Romney said.
“Licenses have been cut in half; permits have been cut by two-thirds on federal lands,” Romney said. “The president said, ‘Gosh, look there’s more oil being produced.’ Yes, Mr. President, on private land, not as a result of anything you’ve done, but in spite of it.”
When Obama could help, “he has not encouraged the development of natural gas, oil and coal,” Romney said.
Those involved in the oil and gas industry do not believe the government is trying to stop development, just that the process is slow.
There is little in the way of regulation to prevent companies from drilling for oil and gas on federal land, said Terry Fleming, executive director of the Ohio Petroleum Council.
Recently there have been meetings between companies and federal officials about drilling permits in the Wayne National Forest in southeast Ohio, he said.
“The park officials seemed very interested in drilling,” Fleming said.
When asked about fewer drilling permits being issued on federal land, he said, “I expect everything to take longer when you’re dealing with the federal government.”
The amount of time it takes to receive a permit is the biggest issue with drilling on federal land, said Jerry James, president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association.
The regulations have not changed significantly, but the amount of time it takes to get a drilling permit on federal land has increased dramatically during the Obama administration, James said.
“I’m working on some leases on federal land, and we’re a year and a half into the process. We’re being told it may take another year for the permit,” he said. “Two and a half years is a lifetime in the oil and gas industry. Companies might just move on to other projects.”
It does not appear as though the federal government is against drilling on federal land. The process is simply time-consuming, James said.
Under Obama, coal regulations have “become more and more labyrinthian, more difficult for coal to be mined and almost impossible to be used,” Romney said.
In January 2008, Obama said, “If someone wants to build a coal plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they are going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”
Romney said the president is “obviously acting in concert with that view.” He added that “the president’s priority is to reduce greenhouse gases and that means doing everything you can to shut off” gas, oil and coal.
“My priority is to create good jobs for the American people and keep our air clean,” Romney said.
Romney said with him as president the country will see “a manufacturing resurgence.”
Romney “claims he supports coal,” Kershaw said, but the former Massachusetts governor “has been a longtime critic of coal-fired power plants.”
Just after Romney became governor, he said a coal-fired plant in Salem Harbor, Mass., needed to be closed because “that plant kills people.” Romney’s campaign has said he specifically was referring to one of the state’s oldest coal plants not in compliance with state environmental laws, and not the entire industry.
“President Obama has made clean coal an important part of his all-of-the-above energy policy, investing $5 billion in clean-coal technology and working to make sure regulations work with local circumstances to keep plants in business,” Kershaw said. “Since Obama took office, coal jobs in Ohio have risen 10 percent and coal jobs nationally are at a 15-year high.”
Contributor: Reporter Burton Speakman