Opponents of fracking are stepping up pressure on the White House to stop the expansion on federal land of the energy-extracting procedure even as the technology is moving the nation closer to a long-cherished goal of energy independence.
Americans Against Fracking, a coalition of over 200 organizations, will hold a rally on Thursday in front of the White House and say they have gathered over 400,000 public comments "urging the Bureau of Land Management to ban fracking on federal lands."
"This event will send a strong message to the Obama administration that protecting public lands, water and air is more important than oil and gas industry profits," said the coalition.
The move to curtail hydraulic fracking technology comes as the procedure is pushing domestic oil production to its highest level in two decades and the U.S. is on track to move past Saudi Arabia in oil production by 2020, with the expanding energy sector creating jobs in an otherwise lackluster economy.
"Once unthinkable a few short years ago, North American energy independence is within our grasp," Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement. "The U.S. is experiencing this oil boom because of advancements in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling techniques, which have allowed developers to tap into America’s vast shale oil reserves."
Most of the gains in shale-oil drilling have been made on private, not federal lands. And vast sections of America's coastal areas — including parts of Florida and all of California — are still off-limits to oil drilling, as is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
"U.S. energy independence will likely hinge on whether people here are willing to open up certain areas for drilling," Tim Considine, a professor in the department of economics and finance at the University of Wyoming, told Newsmax.
With major coastal areas of the nation off-limits to drilling, Considine said "most of the big increases we've seen in oil production are virtually all from shale -- fracked oil. But these reservoirs have very steep decline curves and they become a production treadmill for us. To keep up with demand, you must keep drilling and at some point, you run out of prospects on where to drill."
Considine adds: "If we really want to think radically about this, we truly could become energy independent if we opened up all these other areas for drilling as well, or at least close to it."
The main reason that those areas remain closed is due to opposition from environmental groups, which were key backers of President Barack Obama's political campaigns. Virtually any expansion of U.S. energy resources or infrastructure upgrade is bound to be opposed by environmental groups, usually with a bevy of Hollywood stars leading the way.
Yoko Ono, wife of the late Beatle John Lennon, and her son Sean Lennon formed the group Artist Against Fracking and have enlisted Paul McCartney, Alec Baldwin, Jimmy Fallon, and other big-name entertainers to the cause.
Lady Gaga requested her Facebook and Twitter fans to sign a petition asking New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to ban fracking in the state.
And Matt Damon sought to expose the environmental dangers of fracking in his film "Promised Land," but critics said the movie over-simplified the issue and its objectivity was called in question upon discovery that it was bankrolled by the government of the United Arab Emirates.
Hollywood stars are also lending their clout to try to stop the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, another project that would help fulfill U.S. energy needs, while creating thousands of jobs.
Obama is expected to announce his decision on the massive Keystone pipeline — which would transport oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico — by the end of the year as environmental opponents continue the drumbeat against the project even though public opinion surveys that suggest most approve of Keystone's construction.
Hollywood stars such as Robert Redford, John Cusack, and Julia Louis Dreyfus have spoken out and protested against the pipeline's construction and actresses Daryl Hannah and Margot Kidder have been arrested protesting Keystone.
Redford wrote last month that the pipeline "would exacerbate the carbon pollution that's driving climate chaos. Anyway you cut it, this tar sands pipeline flat out fails the president's common-sense test. It needs to be denied."
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