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Make sure shale-gas boom doesn't go bust

Obama and GOP should unite in driving the use of this abundant gas as a 'bridge fuel' to renewable energy. But they must be cautious in rushing to tap shale gas.

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The sun shines over a Range Resources well site in Washington, Pa., last year. The company is one of many drilling into the Marcellus Shale layer deep underground and 'fracking' the area to release natural gas.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

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During this election year, President Obama and Republicans may not agree on much. Yet they share a common interest in a very hot topic: changing America’s energy strategy to favor natural gas.

The United States is on a “dash for gas” from Texas to New York. A new drilling method (“fracking”) allows abundant gas to be extracted from underground shale, creating tens of thousands of local jobs. The US may have a 100-year supply. The two political parties are competing to outdo each other with promises to support this cleanest of fossil fuels. 

In his State of the Union message, Mr. Obama said that investments in shale gas mean “we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.” Natural gas can serve as a “bridge fuel” for at least a decade until renewable sources reach a more competitive scale and curb climate change. Gas produces about half the carbon emissions that coal does.

On Thursday, the president visited a United Parcel Service facility in Las Vegas to showcase a refilling station for trucks that run on liquid natural gas. He proposed a tax credit for trucking companies to convert their fleets to natural gas, which costs about a third less than gasoline or diesel. Converting a truck can be costly. A five-year tax incentive would reduce the payback time to three years, speeding up the use of gas.

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