David Frum

Will Fracking Win Ohio for Obama?

05.29.12 2:50 PM ET

With AFP Story by Veronique DUPONT: US-Energy-Gas-Environment
Workers change pipes at Consol Energy Horizontal Gas Drilling Rig exploring the Marcellus Shale outside the town of Waynesburg, PA on April 13, 2012. It is estimated that more than 500 trillion cubic feet of shale gas is contained in this stretch of rock that runs through parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia. Shale gas is natural gas stored deep underground in fine-grained sedimentary rocks. It can be extracted using a process known as hydraulic fracturing – or "fracking" – which involves drilling long horizontal wells in shale rocks more than a kilometre below the surface. Massive quantities of water, sand and chemicals are pumped into the wells at high pressure. This opens up fissures in the shale, which are held open by the sand, enabling the trapped gas to escape to the surface for collection. AFP PHOTO/MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Mladen Antonov, AFP / Getty Images

There is something ironic in this headline from Bloomberg:

Obama Prospects Improve as Swing State Economies Improve

What sort of improvements in swing state economies? In some cases, such as Ohio, the improvement comes from extracting shale gas using the controversial "fracking" process:

In Ohio, the state’s economy followed the roller coaster of the auto industry to a deeper recession than elsewhere and a stronger recovery.

Unemployment in the state dropped to 7.4 percent in April, also aided by a rebound in steel, growth in other manufacturing industries and a surge in oil and natural gas development through the use of “fracking” technology.

The GOP controls Ohio's legislature and executive branch so laws permitting shale gas extraction have been successfully passed.

Experts from Ohio's shale gas industry estimate that there are potentially 65,680 jobs to be made and $4.9 billion to be added to Ohio's economic output. Even if you are skeptical about those estimates, it is noticeable that the Obama campaign does not seem eager to discourage the investment, a position that likely frustrates environmentalists in the Obama coalition:

In Ohio and other states, where Obama's chances of a second four-year term as president could hinge on how middle-class families feel about their jobs and finances, he has tread lightly in regulating fracking.

That has won the Democratic president rare praise from oil and gas lobbyists, while frustrating environmentalists and others who have seen Obama as a protector of the environment. The head of the American Petroleum Institute, the trade group for U.S. oil and natural gas companies, recently said the administration now has "a better understanding" of the industry.

His administration also proposed rules for public lands that would require companies to disclose the chemicals they use in fracking after, rather than before, they drill.

Most drilling for natural gas is on private land, which has limited the administration's authority and left most of the regulation to state governments.