Thu September 13, 2012

Fracking: Does it Help or Hurt President Obama's Re-election Chances?

The role of oil and gas development and the boom associated with hydraulic fracturing could give President Obama a boost in at least one swing state, Ohio.

Bloomberg News reports this week on what’s seen in some corners as an “election year irony,” that of a President who was elected in 2008 on a pro-green energy platform, but who is now getting a boost in some parts of the country where the economy is booming because of a sharp rise in oil and gas drilling.

A booming economy due to fracking is certainly the case in one corner of our swing state, Colorado. Though whether it’s giving Mr. Obama a boost in the polls here, as it has in Ohio, is far less certain. No recent polls have addressed this issue specifically in Colorado, where unlike Ohio, the state unemployment rate has hovered close to the national average.

Nonetheless, new technologies around fracking and horizontal drilling are helping fuel an oil boom in Weld County, where oil and gas companies are flocking in droves for a piece of the lucrative Niobrara formation.  But at the same time, over on the western slope near Rifle and Grand Junction, unemployment has soared as the boom times there have soured alongside plummeting natural gas prices. 

Weld County, Colo, has one of the highest concentrations of oil and gas wells in the United States.
Credit Kirk Siegler

Both regions of the state lean Republican, but on a campaign swing through Denver earlier this year, the President seemed to be looking for votes in any and all corners of this important battleground state.

He noted that, under his administration, domestic oil production is at a ten year high. 

“Our dependence on foreign oil is at its lowest point in 16 years,” Mr. Obama said in May. “I’m running so that we can have control over our energy future.”

But the oil and gas industry likes to point out that most of that increase is a result of drilling that’s occurring on private land, where the Administration has little regulatory influence. 

Last month in a speech in New Mexico, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney outlined his domestic energy agenda, part of which seemed to be modeled on Colorado’s state rule regulating fracking and the mandatory public disclosure of fluids used in the process, with a few exemptions. 

"In North Dakota, it takes ten days to get a permit for a new well, in Colorado, it takes 27 days," the Republican said. "That’s to get on state land or private land, but do you know how long it takes the federal government to get your permit on federal land?  On average, 307 days." 

A key pillar of the Romney Campaign strategy has been to portray the Obama Administration as stifling drilling on western public lands, including Colorado. 

Whether this will play in either campaign’s favor remains to be seen.  But one statistic that’s sometimes glossed over by politicians on both sides of the aisle is that, according to state regulators, only about 10% of all the drilling going on in Colorado currently is happening on federal public lands in the first place.

Related Program