In a campaign speech in Cincinnati, OH, President Obama expressed full support for the development of natural gas and acknowledged that "a lot of folks" in the industry are engaging in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in a safe manner. He dismissed claims that his administration -- namely the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency -- is blocking oil and natural gas development.

"If you hear anybody say that somehow we are impeding the development of our energy resources here in this nation, I want you to know these facts: oil production [is] higher than it's been in eight years; natural gas production [is] higher than it's been probably in our lifetimes; oil imports actually [are] lower than they've been in 16 years," he said Monday.

The positive energy picture is in large part due to the boom in natural gas, Obama said. "I want to encourage natural gas production. The key is to make sure that we do it safely and in a way that is environmentally sound," said the president in response to a question from a man, who said he opposed fracking activities in the Buckeye State.

"You always hear these arguments that somehow there's this huge contradiction between the environment and economic development, or the environment and energy production. And the fact of the matter is that there are a lot of folks right now that are engaging in hydraulic fracking who are doing it safely." He noted that the federal government still has to issue guidelines to ensure the safe use of fracking to stimulate shale gas development.

The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last week extended until Sept. 10 the comment period for its proposed rule on fracking, which would require companies to publicly disclose chemicals used in fracking operations on federal and Indian lands (see Daily GPI, July 13). The comment period was due to initially close on July 10.

"We are going to work with industry to establish best practices. We are going to invest in the basic research and science required to make sure this is done safely and in a way that protects the public health. And for responsible companies, they should be able to operate, make a profit and we can all benefit and put people back to work. But if you're an irresponsible company that's not doing the right thing, we're going to hold you to account.

"That's how we should develop this incredible resource, which, by the way, if we do it properly, could end up changing the economics and politics of energy in a way that's actually very good for us," Obama said.

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