AURORA, Colorado (Reuters) - President Barack Obama pitched a plan on Thursday to boost U.S. use of natural gas and open more land for drilling during a campaign-style tour aimed at bolstering confidence in his economic stewardship in an election year.
At a Colorado air force base hangar, Obama called the United States “the Saudi Arabia of natural gas” and said developing its reserves would create U.S. jobs and provide cleaner, cheaper energy to American consumers.
Obama also said investing in renewable energy like wind and solar power - instead of subsidizing the oil sector - would help reduce America’s dependence on exports to fuel its cars, trucks and factories.
“Even if we tapped every drop of domestic oil, we’ve only got 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves. We’ve got to have an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy, develop every available source of American energy,” he told a military crowd in Aurora, where the Air Force is installing a 1-megawatt solar power system.
On the second day of his five-state, three-day tour, the Democratic president sought to counter Republican criticism of his energy policies and said his proposed tax incentives for natural gas trucks would bolster demand for the fuel.
Republicans were deeply upset by Obama’s decision to block the Keystone XL Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline, which they say would have created jobs and reduced U.S. dependence on oil from the Middle East.
Obama’s trip to Iowa, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Michigan - all pivotal for the November 6 vote - follows his Tuesday night State of the Union address in which he took a combative tone toward congressional Republicans and spoke of the need to reduce income inequality.
He also used that speech to raise attention to the booming natural gas sector, which has grown dramatically in recent years as advances in technology have unlocked vast new reserves.
Earlier on Thursday, at a UPS facility in Las Vegas, Obama said natural gas could support more than 600,000 American jobs by the end of the decade - a key concern for the president who needs to convince voters he is making headway on employment.
Obama’s overall approval ratings had been sagging amid voter concern over the lackluster economy, but his popularity has inched higher and in some recent surveys has climbed above the important 50 percent threshold.
Increasing domestic natural gas consumption would benefit drillers, as U.S. natural gas prices have fallen sharply because of the growing glut and the relatively warm winter.
Using domestic natural gas as a cleaner alternative to importing foreign oil has been heavily promoted by Texas oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens and has attracted support from both sides of the aisle in Congress.
Obama’s natural gas truck proposal, which would need congressional approval, still could face an uphill battle. Republicans campaigning on promises to cut government spending would likely resist costly new energy subsidies.
Similar measures aimed at expanding tax breaks for natural gas vehicles have failed to break through partisan gridlock, and conservative groups have opposed such legislation on the grounds that government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers in the energy sector.
Some oil and gas industry backers have also complained that the Obama administration has hindered drilling through slow permitting and a raft of new rules implemented since the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.