President Obama’s State of the Union proposal to boost new natural-gas drilling on land and increase oil-and-gas drilling offshore will advance a number of his political and policy goals at once.
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening, the president directed the government to develop a road map to safely promote exploration of new shale gas, an initiative he said would support 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. By framing new fossil-fuel drilling as a job-creator, Obama is taking a page from the playbook of his political opponents and trying to blunt their attacks that he has blocked jobs in the energy industry. But he’s still hewing to his broader environmental goals by boosting production of a cheap, cleaner alternative to coal: Natural gas produces only about half the global-warming emissions of coal, and almost none of the same toxic air pollutants.
At the same time, Obama proposed quick expansion of offshore drilling, including in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska, where oil exploration has never been done. "I'm directing my administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources," Obama said.
The moves appear unlikely to delight his supporters or outrage his opponents, but rather to keep him astride a tightrope in the middle— exactly where he wants to be.