Indiana Treasurer and U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock told a gathering of Tea Party members in February that U.S. energy policy should be to "encourage" and "incentivize" shale oil development, an apparent contradiction of his position that the use of new energy sources should be determined by the market.
Mourdock, a former coal company executive, was at the time running in a Republican primary against Sen. Richard Lugar. During that race he touted his opposition to ethanol subsidies as an example of his small government bona fides.
Now that Mourdock has defeated Lugar, however, his position could come back to haunt him during his general election run against Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly in a state that places corn near the center of its identity. The two candidates are currently running even in opinion polls.
Speaking about energy policy on Feb. 4, Mourdock told the New Carlisle Tea Party, "You can have a policy of producing more ethanol and making liquid energy out of that -- that’s not one I happen to think is a good idea, but you can do that," according to a video recorded by a Democratic tracker.
That position of flatly opposing additional ethanol production for gasoline appears to go a step further than the position his spokesman Christopher Conner stated in May, that Mourdock "does not oppose the use of alternative, renewable energy, such as ethanol, biodiesel, wind or solar, which can reduce our dependence on foreign sources of oil.”
Mourdock then switched into a discussion of the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota, a massive geological feature that could contain up to 17 billion barrels of recoverable oil. Much of that oil, however, has been unusable, trapped underneath difficult-to-drill rock. Only in recent years, with the development of hydraulic fracturing and other technologies, have mineral companies been able to exploit the Bakken formation, prompting something of an oil rush in the state.
Mourdock apparently believes the oil companies that have already begun to swoop in on the Bakken should be given a helping hand.
"There are also always reports of things like the Bakken formation in North Dakota where there are so many billions of barrels of oil," he said. "Those rock formations are very, very, tight. They don’t want to give up that oil. It’s not like the reservoirs that have been down in Texas and the Gulf Coast. So it’s going to cost us more to get that oil out."
"What we have to have, though, is an energy policy, number one, first and foremost, that encourages that kind of development," he continued. "We shouldn’t be waiting until the price of oil gets to 150 or 160 or 200 bucks a barrel before we incentivize or do whatever we need to do to make sure that that type of technology is being developed."
The specific policies Mourdock envisioned by saying the U.S. should "encourage" shale oil development or "incentivize" its technology are unclear. A spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But even if he merely meant that the government should back research into advanced drilling technologies, that would appear to contradict his position that "the efficacy of alternative energy should be dictated by the market." It would also create a contrast between him and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has hammered President Barack Obama over loan guarantees given to solar manufacturer Solyndra.
Outgoing Republican Sen. Richard Lugar long supported ethanol subsidies as a way to help Hoosier farmers. Mourdock's opponent, Rep. Joe Donnelly, has been happy to flaunt his support for ethanol during the general election as an example of his pragmatism.
On May 23, Donnelly visited an ethanol refinery where he criticized Mourdock's opposition to bipartisanship, saying "my experience in Congress is that when we work together we can get big things done."
Democrats, who released the tape, said it showed that Mourdock's priorities were out of line with Indiana's.
"Indiana's economy and Richard Mourdock's TEA Party politics are on a collision course," Ben Ray, press secretary for the Indiana Democratic Party, said in an email. "Now we've uncovered footage of him plainly telling Hoosiers that he opposes ethanol, an industry that creates 3,500 Indiana jobs. Hoosiers deserve an honest answer: When the chips are down will Richard Mourdock back Indiana's economy, or his own political career?"
Long version of the video: