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Traffic generated by an oil boom lines the main street in Watford City, North Dakota, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011. Oil production in the state has tripled in five years, attracting the likes of Exxon Mobil Corp., and Norway's Statoil ASA. (Matthew Staver/Bloomberg)
Traffic generated by an oil boom lines the main street in Watford City, North Dakota, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011. Oil production in the state has tripled in five years, attracting the likes of Exxon Mobil Corp., and Norway's Statoil ASA. (Matthew Staver/Bloomberg)

Globe Editorial: First Take

Barack Obama talks alternative energy while counting on an oil boom Add to ...

President Obama struck an odd note in his inauguration speech when he boasted, on one hand, that the U.S. economy is growing then, on the other hand, vowed forcefully and emotionally to respond to “the threat of climate change” and to push for the development of made-in-America alternative energy sources. There is a consensus that the recovery Mr. Obama is counting on will come as the result of a fossil fuel boom – one he himself has predicted will create at least 600,000 jobs. So just where is the President going on this?

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During his election campaign, Mr. Obama accurately boasted that production of U.S. oil and natural gas had risen steadily under his administration, while U.S. dependence on foreign supplies had declined. He also boasted of having allowed new oil drilling in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. Shortly after his re-election in November, the International Energy Agency predicted that U.S. crude production will overtake that of Saudi Arabia in around 2020, and that America will be a net crude exporter by 2030. There have been recent news reports about boomtowns in the Midwest having to import strippers to satisfy a growing demand among well-paid oil workers. And the federal government has allowed preliminary drilling for shale oil in Colorado and Utah, tapping into a potential reserve of 3-trillion barrels that, if given the green light, would supply the country for 100 years.

It is safe to presume that if the United States burns the same amount of fossil fuel over the next 100 years as it has in the past 100, there will be little if any reduction in its contribution to the greenhouse gases that are linked to climate change. Steps to increase the efficiency of cars will help, and developing alternative energies is a wise direction for any country. But no president is going to interfere with an economic boom, dirty or otherwise, that could help lift the middle class out of its current lethargy and that could also produce tax and royalty revenues that would help eliminate the country’s massive deficit.

It is very hard to imagine that four years from now Mr. Obama’s legacy will include a reduction in fossil-fuel dependency and a greener planet, passionate inauguration speeches notwithstanding.

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