President Obama's Energy Problem

With 14 million Americans unemployed, buzz about a possible double dip recession reverberating in many ears and approval ratings at an all-time low, President Obama cannot afford to lose the support of any more of his constituents. Just last week, hundreds of concerned Americans descended on Philadelphia to speak out against the damages that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has already inflicted on communities throughout the region. Recent protests in Pennsylvania, New York, Washington, D.C. and elsewhere show that President Obama now has a fight over our nation's energy future to contend with, and the next battleground will be in the Delaware River Basin, where the Delaware River Basin Commission will vote next month on whether to approve new rules to open up wide areas of the Northeast to fracking.

Here President Obama still has an opportunity to salvage his approval ratings by blazing a new path in the burgeoning movement to protect our shared resources from the public health and environmental problems associated with fracking. President Obama can lend his considerable influence to the Delaware River Basin Commission's upcoming decision by voting against fracking. The stakes are high: 18,000 proposed natural gas wells are on the table, and the drinking water of 15 millions Americans is at stake. Given the many unanswered questions about the long-term public health and environmental impacts of fracking, it would be reckless to allow this industrial, dangerous practice to take place in the Delaware River Basin.

The process of injecting millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand into shale rock formations at high pressures to release gas, fracking has earned plenty of opponents. Over the past 20 months, at least 10 studies by scientists, Congress, investigative journalists and public interest groups have documented serious environmental and public health problems associated with the practice, helping to further galvanize the movement for a nationwide ban.

The fervor against fracking, a widely and deeply felt issue affecting the very lifeblood of Americans--our precious water resources--is unlikely to subside any time soon, and so far, President Obama has failed to show a serious regard for it.

The Shale Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board was President Obama's first official foray into the thorny politics of fracking, but rather than assembling a team of experts committed to recommending policies that would safeguard our collective public health and our nation's treasured natural resources, he assembled a panel where six of its seven members maintain direct financial ties to the oil and gas industry. Unsurprisingly, their recommendations on fracking were widely lambasted for not going nearly far enough to protect consumers and the environment from the risks associated with the controversial energy practice.

The oil and gas industry has sold the promise that shale gas obtained through fracking will secure our nation's energy future. But U.S. natural gas consumption is actually expected to decline through 2015, while demand overseas increases--as much as 44 percent by 2035. Additionally, analysis by Food & Water Watch shows that the gas, along with the profits, will increasingly go abroad as many international players such as Reliance Industries, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation and BP. So while the industry talking points about economic prosperity and energy security might be appealing on the surface, President Obama needs to take a deeper look at these claims, while assessing fracking's full impact on rural communities, our environment and public health.

President Obama can now either stand with the American public, and lead us down a path to a brighter, cleaner, more sustainable energy future, or he can side with an industry that has exploited every regulatory loophole possible to skirt clean air and water policies for the sake of a hefty profit. On September 13, thousands of concerned Americans will flood White House phone lines to remind him of this choice, joining with the almost 77,000 that have already taken action to ban the practice.

With the Shale Gas Subcommittee, President Obama chose the wrong bedfellows to help him determine fracking's place in our nation's energy future. But there is still time for him to do what's best for his constituents, starting with those in the Delaware River Basin. Then, he must work to ban fracking throughout the entire U.S. While job creation is essential to boosting our nation's economy, it should be attained through developing a clean, sustainable energy portfolio and investing in our essential water resources. Closing the gap in federal funding to community water systems could create as many as 750,000 new jobs, a promise the natural gas industry can't be trusted to deliver on.