EDITORIAL: Put foot on gas in energy search

In a move that could boost economies along the East Coast, the Obama administration approved the use of underwater sound blasts to pinpoint the locations of oil and gas deposits beneath Atlantic Ocean waters. Environmentalists are less than pleased with the decision, but President Barack Obama deserves praise for it.

During the process, sonic cannons towed behind boats send down pulses of sound that reverberate beneath the sea floor and rebound to the surface. Computers translate the sounds into images that help identify the best areas to drill for oil and gas. The potential negative impact on the environment and sea creatures along the coast is minimal, but the potential economic impact is significant: The decision could lead to the creation of new energy infrastructure, many thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in tax revenue.

President Obama is quick to take credit for our modest economic recovery, but that recovery would be virtually nonexistent without the country’s current oil and gas boom. The United States uses more than 18 million barrels of oil per day, and until recently most of that oil was imported, some from countries we’d rather not have to deal with. But fracking has boosted our production to 11 million barrels per day — the most in the world — and, according to the International Energy Agency, oil production in the United States is projected to continue growing until leveling off in 2020, when (coupled with increasing fuel efficiency standards) we may very well no longer require any oil from the Middle East.

The president also touts how much more natural gas and oil the U.S. is producing — which is definitely good news — but the overwhelming majority of that oil and gas production results from fracking on state and private lands. Not only has Washington consistently torpedoed expanded access to federal land for natural gas and oil drilling — Nevada could join the oil and gas boom if its vast reserves weren’t under federal land — it has also stood in the way of the Keystone XL pipeline project, which would send some 830,000 barrels of crude each day from Alberta, Canada, across the Midwest to American refineries on the Gulf Coast. The project would create thousands of jobs without any cost to the government and, like the use of underwater sound blasts on the East Coast, cause little harm to the environment.

During his State of the Union address in January, President Obama proudly declared that “America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades.” If he is serious about reaching that goal, he needs to do more to allow federal lands to be put to more productive use. Allowing surveys off the East Coast is a good move toward that. But we can’t stop there. Free our lands, and economic growth will follow.