Obama suddenly warming to natural-gas exploration?

Maybe Barack Obama left the country after the midterms to distance himself from … himself.  In the latest move to position himself to the center, Obama has expressed a curious and sudden interest in drilling for natural gas, and even implicitly backed a process called hydraulic fracturing to access large deposits in Pennsylvania and Texas, among other places.  Industry figures were pleased with the move, but Obama’s environmental allies won’t share their enthusiasm:

President Obama’s newfound interest in expanded natural gas drilling yesterday surprised many on all sides of the drilling debate, from environmentalists to drillers and even the coal industry.

Representatives of drilling groups said they had no idea that Obama would make natural gas his lead olive branch to the newly empowered Capitol Hill Republicans. But they were pleased that he did.

“I was surprised by the venue,” said Chris Tucker, spokesman for Energy In Depth, a drilling industry group formed to fight off federal regulation of shale gas drilling.

Obama’s remarks seemed to refer to vast new sources of shale gas in Pennsylvania, Texas and their neighboring states. Improvements in “hydraulic fracturing” technology have allowed production from formations under those states previously thought to be too expensive to exploit (E&ENews PM, Nov. 3).

Yes, well, don’t be terribly surprised.  The key to this change in direction is in that last paragraph — Pennsylvania.  Democrats just lost control of that state on Tuesday, along with Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida.  There’s a term for a Democratic presidential nominee who loses Pennsylvania and doesn’t get the other three states in return: loser.

Obama certainly knows this, and knows he needs to mend fences with Keystone State voters, and fast.  Allowing for gas exploration and “fracking” will create jobs and lower energy costs for the region, which will put Democrats in a better mood by 2012.  The environmental concerns of the Left are going to take a back seat to Job 1, which is re-election.

Coal producers expressed disappointment that Obama failed to mention their industries in his remarks, but that may not be long in coming, either.   Joe Manchin nearly lost an election he should have won by 30 points in large measure because of Obama’s war on coal. Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana have fingers in the coal industry; Wisconsin doesn’t produce coal, but they use a lot of it, and so does Michigan.  If Obama wants to reconnect to voters in states he has to win in 2012, expect at least a temporary truce in the coal war, too.