SOTU: Obama Doubles Down on Natural Gas, Promises Stronger Environmental Protections

Obama stands by continued natural gas development, says it's key to reduction of oil imports.

President Barack Obama addresses Congress in his 2014 State of the Union address Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014.

President Barack Obama addresses Congress in his 2014 State of the Union address.

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President Barack Obama touted natural gas production as the centerpiece to his administration's "all-of-the-above" approach to energy production in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, calling it a key source of jobs and a critical factor in reducing the country's reliance on foreign oil, even as he pledged to introduce tighter environmental regulations.

"America is closer to energy independence than we've been in decades," the president said. "One of the reasons why is natural gas – if extracted safely, it's the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change."

The "all-of-the-approach" theme has been a part of Obama's State of the Union addresses – and a major component of his energy policy – since his 2012 address. A notable addition Tuesday night, though, was the caveat, "if extracted safely" – a signal the administration aims to tighten regulations on the natural gas industry.

[READ: Has Obama Kept His Promises on Energy and the Environment?]

While natural gas, when burned, gives off far fewer emissions than coal or oil, the extraction of natural gas has attracted vocal criticism from environmental groups and research scientists. Studies show that the process most often used to extract natural gas – hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" – frequently poisons waterways, causes earthquakes and, when done without carbon-capture devices, releases high levels of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Low natural gas prices, however, have led to a fracking boom, which has helped bring prices to bedrock levels, and directly and indirectly provided thousands of jobs.

Tuesday night, Obama promised to "keep working with the industry to sustain production and job growth while strengthening protection of our air," as well as "our water, and our communities" - references, perhaps, to the coal-chemical spill that poisoned the drinking water for 300,000 residents of West Virginia earlier this month.

The president also highlighted the growth of the solar-power sector, reiterated his calls to end tax subsidies for coal and oil producers and announced plans for stricter fuel standards for trucks.

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