Intelligent Energy

Energy round-up: Obama's wind revolution, stalled fracking regulations

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Two articles published today wholly captured the zeitgeist of our times: one detailing the dramatic increase in wind power under President Obama's first term and another bemoaning stalled natural gas mining regulations. This week also saw announcements of new renewable energy infrastructure projects.

There has been a massive increase in wind energy during President Obama's term, but critics contend that he's not doing enough to accelerate natural gas drilling.

Two articles published today wholly captured the zeitgeist of our times: one detailing the dramatic increase in wind power under President Obama's first term and another bemoaning stalled natural gas mining regulations. This week also saw announcements of new renewable energy infrastructure projects.

TIME's Michael Grunwald shot down Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's suggestion that solar and wind power are "imaginary sources of energy. Romney has expressed opposition to tax credits that benefit renewable energy producers on the basis that the "free market" should determine the winners while continuing to support subsidies for fossil fuels. Grunwald wrote:

"Before President Obama took office, the U.S. had 25 gigawatts of wind power, and the government’s “base case” energy forecast expected 40 GW by 2030. Well, it’s not quite 2030 yet, but we’ve already got 50 GW of wind. We’ve also got about 5 GW of solar, which isn’t much but is over six times as much as we had before Obama. Mitt Romney has suggested that wind and solar are “imaginary” sources of energy, but they can now power 15 million homes, and their industries employ more than 300,000 Americans. That’s real."

The President has been on tour of swing states this week touting wind energy. Both Iowa and Colorado have seen job growth in the sector under his administration. This week the President announced seven new renewable energy infrastructure projects that would power an estimated 1.5 million homes.

Contrast that with President Obama's presumed lack of progress on drafting new regulations for natural gas companies. A controversial mining technique called hydrofracturing, or “fracking,” has proven potential to contaminate groundwater or even cause earthquakes. Natural gas is also an abundant domestic energy source, and President Obama promised to that his administration "will take every possible action to safely develop energy," during his last State of the Union speech.

Forbes contributor Brigham A. McCown (that's definitely a power name) wrote a nice assessment on the state of new regulations that would govern fracking. He began by noting how the regulations were intended to improve the disclosure of chemicals uses during the process, well integrity, and the aforementioned ecological problems.

McCown noted slow goings, and concluded:

"What President Obama and the EPA are missing are the new, more effective drilling techniques that have led to the more cost-efficient drilling and safer production procedures. Despite the added grace period, White House officials say the rule will be finalized by year’s end. Should the vote pass, states will be relieved of their responsibilities regulating the wells, and oil and gas companies will be left with even higher taxes and ironclad regulations that will ultimately do more harm than good."

Natural gas is a cheap fuel source now because there's been an appreciable surge in shale gas production. There's also been a multi billion dollar boom in chemical industry investment attributed to its low price. There is now greater annual growth in production under President Obama than most of the past decade - even greater than a period of regulator neglect during the Bush years. It increased 48 percent over the 2006-2010, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

2011 was a record breaking year. On Tuesday, the EIA revised its 2012 outlook, but still expect a natural gas production growth rate of 3.8 percent over 2011 levels. By that measure, what's the harm of taking the time to get regulation right? The public is concerned about what happens when things go wrong.

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure