Experts hopeful about Obama's energy plan

HOUSTON He's calling for a boost in domestic oil and natural gas production as well as higher dependency on bio and alternative fuels. It's in response to the instability in the Middle East, as well as higher energy prices.

Just this afternoon, US regulators granted approval for Shell to drill a new well in the deep water of the Gulf. It's the first time since last year's Deepwater Horizon rig explosion that the government has approved plans to drill new oil and gas resources.

Until now, regulators have only approved wells that were being drilled before the president's six-month drilling moratorium went into effect. The president's speech on Wednesday to some in the energy industry was encouraging but only if it translates into more opportunities like this one.

President Obama wants the US to reduce its oil dependency by one-third and laid out some of the steps to get there.

"Finding and producing more oil at home; second, reducing our overall dependence on oil with cleaner alternative fuels," Obama said.

Industry experts say that's great news, since domestic oil production is down 250,000 barrels per day and they blame this administration's policies.

"What we've seen over the last year is an assault on offshore drilling. Just here at Hercules we've had rigs go idle waiting on permits," Hercules Offshore Senior VP Jim Noe said.

Noe says permits that used to take two to three weeks now take two to three months, crippling an industry he says was unfairly punished for the BP disaster.

"We need permits, we need permits, we need permits -- that's what this is about," he said.

About 40 permits have been issued since last April. But there were two words the president said that encouraged Noe as well as energy analysts: "natural gas."

"Natural gas is abundant, it's clean-burning, it's cheap; we have a lot of it," Noe said.

"That is the growth market, that is really the growth market," Energy Intelligence Group Bureau Chief Barbara Shook said.

Shook says Texas will benefit from a shift to natural gas. The state is sitting on a lot of it, and it doesn't produce greenhouse gases the way coal does.

"The real market for natural gas is power generation, electricity generation. Instead of building nuclear plants, you build plants that are fueled by natural gas," she said.

But the Houston Air Alliance says the president is off track.

"There are problems with gas drilling, there are problems with water contaminations, there are problems with air pollution. None of these options is a silver bullet to solve our problems," said Matthew Tejada, executive director of Air Alliance.

They say the president who promised "change" is not changing much when it comes to energy.

"I think this morning was all politics, very little policy," Tejada said.

The Air Alliance says the president should focus on renewable, alternative fuel sources. While the president did speak about the need to develop those fuels for our future, he said short-term energy solutions need to be addressed, because too many Americans are unable to afford gas.

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