President Obama’s tilt toward accepting the economic opportunities from U.S. natural gas abundance may have been in fits and starts, but the right-leaning oil and gas industry is finding a lot to praise today, industry officials said Wednesday.

America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) CEO Marty Durbin joined The Breakthrough Institute’s President Michael Shellenberger and former Department of Energy official Jeff Navin in a panel discussion at the Rocky Mountain Energy Summit, the 25th conference sponsored by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Asked about their views on the Obama administration and his recent appointments, the trio offered only praise.

“The easiest way to put it is, we’re certainly liking what we are hearing,” said Durbin. He said ANGA producer members see new Interior chief Sally Jewell as “very positive. We get a sense from our companies that they hear…openness and how to create some balance issues on production size.”

Ernest Moniz’s selection to head the Department of Energy (DOE) also has been met with a good response from producers, said Durbin. It may have been coincidence, or not, that Wednesday as the landmark industry conference got into full swing DOE announced the worldwide liquefied natural gas (LNG) export authorization for a third terminal at Lake Charles, LA, bringing authorized exports to the world market to 5.6 Bcf/d (see related story).

“We really see him trying to step up and be a broker, a facilitator in the dialogue,” said Durbin. “He sees the opportunity to use natural gas in the economy.”

Considering Obama’s major speech in June about climate change, “there’s not much more positive he could have said about natural gas,” said Durbin. “It’s certainly very positive from that standpoint.”

The president had said shortly after he was elected in 2008 that climate change was a top priority (see Daily GPI, Nov. 19, 2008). That top priority was squeezed out in favor of other top priorities, including the health care law.

In June, however, climate change moved back on the to-do list. Obama gave a speech in June that came down hard on coal-fired generation and which promoted “cleaner-burning natural gas” (see Daily GPI, June 26). Obama said at the time the United States needed to “strengthen our position as a top natural gas producer,” and he pledged to work with industry to make drilling safer and to help contain methane emissions.

Navin said he often hears that the President “doesn’t like natural gas,” and then asked to “point to things” Obama has done to support the industry.

“He hasn’t engaged in a debate about production,” said Navin. Why should he? “Actions speak volumes…There’s not anybody at a senior level in the administration who doesn’t see what’s happening with natural gas as a huge opportunity for the economic development of this country and it’s ability to reduce emissions.”

Navin noted that before moving to DOE, he worked as a deputy chief of staff for the Department of Labor.

“We kept seeing as we were coming out of the recession the role oil and gas was doing and impacting the job numbers. So, I think particularly on the natural gas side, there’s no question that the administration sees it as an opportunity.”

Shellenberger, who runs the global think tank on energy and conservation, agreed.

“Natural gas is increasingly replacing coal,” he said. “A few years ago we were arguing that we needed to make ‘clean’ energy cheap. People just kind of laughed, saying we’d never get a cleaner source than coal…We don’t have cap-and-trade, but U.S. emissions are dropping faster than any place in the world…”

Natural gas positives “is not satisfying to folks who are negatively affected by oil and gas development, but these numbers have had an impact on many environmentalists, including Obama.

“His speech [on climate change] was a turning point. We are starting to see the center of the Democratic party and the environmental movement strongly tilting toward gas. They may criticize, but they understand that gas is key.”