FARGO, ND — Opening a new front against President Obama in oil-rich North Dakota today, Mitt Romney argued that president Obama deserved “no credit” for increases in domestic oil production, and said the president should be “hanging his head” over the state of American energy.
“So far from taking credit, he should be hanging his head and taking a little bit of the blame for what's going on today,” Romney told a town hall audience of about 200 Fargoans gathered for a town-hall style event.
“He's cut the lease rate [for exploration on federal lands] in half - and how about giving permits to drillers? He's cut that rate of permitting down to one third. This is a president who's not been helping the situation,” Romney said.
Hours after Romney spoke here, President Obama delivered his own energy-related address in New Hampshire.
Romney also took the president to task for pushing to regulate hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells, an extraction technique commonly known as “fracking,” at the federal, rather than state level, saying such a move would “stifle” domestic oil production.
Fracking consists of injecting hundreds of thousands of gallons of a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into oil and gas wells at high pressure to fracture rock and release oil and gas within. The technique, by no means new, has earned the attention of environmentalists in recent years, who fear chemical spills or contamination of local supplies and aquifers, particularly in formations near major population centers like the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio.
Romney’s comments received a warm reception here, where horizontal drilling techniques, rising oil and gas prices and an expansion in fracturing in the Bakken shale formation beneath North Dakota has led to a jobs boom, and the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 3.3%. Employers have struggled here to find qualified truck drivers, roughnecks and engineers, and so-called “man-camps” have sprung up across the state to accommodate workers from other states swarming to North Dakota for jobs linked to the oil and gas industry.
“If you've got a clean record, and you can drive a truck, you're making minimum $60,000," state representative Bette Grande told NBC before the event.
“You're not going to find a hotel room, that’s for sure," Grande added, explaining that the state has been simply unable to keep up with the infrastructure needs of a booming oil-and-gas economy. Roads strain under tractor-trailer traffic, and housing remains a constant need.
For his own energy policy, he former Massachusetts governor described something of a “kitchen sink” approach that would include increased domestic coal and oil production (including offshore and in ANWAR), approval of the Keystone pipeline, and greater reliance on nuclear power, as well as alternative sources of energy.
“I like wind and solar... but they're not going to drive our cars,” Romney said.