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ENERGY BOOM GAINS MOMENTUM AS POLITICAL OBSTACLES DISAPPEAR
Political obstacles to oil and gas production are starting to fall away at the state and local levels as voters, elected officials and courts jump on the energy boom bandwagon.
Voters are rewarding local politicians who support production. Ballot measures are distributing potential tax windfalls broadly. And most state legislatures are focused on managing the economic and environmental consequences of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, so the drilling boom can speed up rather than slow down.
The trend is crucial to the nation's energy future because oil and gas production is regulated and taxed almost entirely by state and local governments. The federal government's role is largely advisory, except on federal lands and on pipelines.
"Fracking is happening and it's not going to stop, so we have to take the high road of good regulation and taxes so communities are better off, not worse off, after it's done," says Ted Boettner, executive director of the liberal West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.
Most states were caught off guard when fracking turned Pennsylvania into a major natural gas producer in 2009. Fracking could produce oil or gas in as many as 36 states. Result: The USA will become the world's No. 1 producer of natural gas in 2015 and oil in 2017, overtaking Russia and Saudi Arabia, respectively, predicts the International Energy Agency.
Clearing the way:
Elections. Pro-drilling candidates are winning at the local level, including a sweep in southern New York. "It wasn't the only issue, but it was a hot one ," says Broome County executive Debbie Preston, who won re-election Nov. 6. She's creating a department to help drillers. The state now has a moratorium on fracking.
Pipelines. The industry is winning approval to build pipelines. Williams Partners. the largest pipeline company, got a thumbs-up Nov. 7 to expand one pipeline and has applied to build another to move natural gas to Boston and New York City.
Even the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Canada looks more likely. Pro-pipeline Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, winner in North Dakota's U.S. Senate race, predicts federal approval early next year.
Natural Resources Defense Council lawyer Kate Sinding says loopholes in federal law make it hard to stop fracking. "A lot of traditional litigation tools are not available," she says.