Obama Hints at European Fracking Following Russia Sanctions

He also made the case for importing more U.S. gas in a conference with the European Union’s two top leaders.

National Journal
Jack Fitzpatrick
March 26, 2014, 8:29 a.m.

BRUS­SELS — Pres­id­ent Obama didn’t dir­ectly call Wed­nes­day for Europe to start frack­ing for shale gas, but he strongly sug­ges­ted that coun­tries there di­ver­si­fy their en­ergy sources as the European Uni­on hits Rus­sia with sanc­tions over its an­nex­a­tion of Crimea.

Rus­sia’s ag­gres­sion in Crimea has high­lighted the E.U.’s de­pend­ence on gas that travels through pipelines in Ukraine. Isol­at­ing Rus­sia eco­nom­ic­ally would be less pain­ful for Europe if it did not de­pend so heav­ily on that gas, Obama said at a press con­fer­ence with European Coun­cil Pres­id­ent Her­man Van Rompuy and European Com­mis­sion Pres­id­ent Jose Manuel Bar­roso.

“This en­tire event has poin­ted to, I think, for Europe, how it needs to di­ver­si­fy its en­ergy sources,” Obama said.

De­clin­ing to spe­cific­ally en­dorse frack­ing, Obama said the U.S. has been “blessed by some in­cred­ible re­sources” re­cently.

Bar­roso, however, made clear his sup­port for frack­ing, say­ing it was a “bless­ing” for coun­tries that im­port gas from the U.S. rather than Rus­sia.

“European coun­tries will be­come less de­pend­ent on en­ergy com­ing from, let’s say, dif­fi­cult spots,” he said.

The state­ment also hin­ted at ne­go­ti­ations on the free-trade Transat­lantic Trade and In­vest­ment Pro­gram. Pres­id­ent Obama sug­ges­ted that U.S. li­que­fied gas ex­ports to the E.U. could in­crease de­pend­ing on the con­tents of the deal, which could re­duce tar­iffs and reg­u­la­tions in trade between the U.S. and E.U.

Brit­ish Prime Min­is­ter Dav­id Camer­on has also called for frack­ing in Europe since the crisis in Crimea began. On Tues­day, he said Rus­sia’s in­va­sion was a “wake-up call” for coun­tries re­ly­ing on Rus­sia gas, Re­u­ters re­por­ted.

Obama walked a fine line on en­vir­on­ment­al is­sues in the press con­fer­ence, both pro­mot­ing the U.S.’s gas ex­ports and as­sur­ing Europeans that the United States would not push for more-lax European laws on en­vir­on­ment­al pro­tec­tion as part of the free-trade deal. He ad­dressed European con­cerns that the U.S. would try to re­duce bar­ri­ers to trade by ask­ing for weakened en­vir­on­ment­al reg­u­la­tions, say­ing he has fought for en­vir­on­ment­al pro­tec­tions dur­ing his “en­tire polit­ic­al ca­reer.”

But Obama also subtly cri­ti­cized the E.U. for heav­ily fa­vor­ing en­vir­on­ment­al reg­u­la­tion over en­ergy pro­duc­tion, say­ing the U.S. had made tough choices that the E.U. now faces.

“The truth of the mat­ter is, just as there’s no easy, free, simple way to de­fend ourselves, there’s no per­fect, free, ideal, cheap en­ergy sources,” he said. “Every pos­sible en­ergy source has some in­con­veni­ences or down­sides. And I think Europe is go­ing to have to ex­am­ine, in light of what’s happened, their en­ergy policies to find, are there ad­di­tion­al ways that they can di­ver­si­fy and ac­cel­er­ate en­ergy in­de­pend­ence.”

Neither Obama, Bar­roso, nor Van Rompuy ad­dressed wheth­er the U.S. and E.U. see Crimea as a lost cause, in­stead fo­cus­ing on the pos­sib­il­ity of ad­di­tion­al sanc­tions if Rus­sia be­comes ag­gress­ive to­ward any oth­er parts of Ukraine. Obama, who was at­tend­ing the E.U. sum­mit for the first time as pres­id­ent, em­phas­ized the U.S.’s co­ordin­a­tion with the E.U. on sanc­tions.

Obama also de­clined to ad­dress wor­ries in Europe over U.S. spy­ing pro­grams. Bar­roso said he and Van Rompuy have “con­cerns, shared widely by cit­izens in E.U. mem­ber states,” about U.S. sur­veil­lance, but that they had dis­cussed the is­sue with Obama earli­er in the day and are con­fid­ent about Obama’s pro­pos­als for NSA re­forms — in­clud­ing end­ing the agency’s mass col­lec­tion of phone data.

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