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By Jim Provance / Block News Alliance  in Post

CINCINNATI -- President Barack Obama said at a campaign event Monday that the nation should "welcome" the natural gas exploration boom and hydraulic fracturing technology as part of the answer to making the United States less dependent on foreign oil.

"Natural gas actually burns cleaner than some other fossil fuels," the Democratic incumbent said in reply to an audience question. "It's an ideal energy source that we potentially could use for the next 100 years.

"So I want to encourage natural gas production. The key is to make sure that we do it safely and in a way that is environmentally sound."

The practice popularly called "fracking," regionally concentrated so far in eastern Ohio and neighboring Pennsylvania, involves ground injections of chemically treated fluids at high pressure to fracture shale deposits and free oil and natural gas trapped inside.

"There are a lot of folks right now who are engaging in hydraulic fracturing who are doing it safely," Mr. Obama said. "The problem is that we haven't established clear guidelines of how to do it safely and to inform the public, so that neighbors know what's going on. ... Look, we are going to work with industry to establish best practices. We are going to invest in the basic research and science to make sure this is done safely and in a way that protects the public health.

"For responsible companies, they should be able to operate and make a profit, and we will all benefit and put people back to work," he said. "But if it's an irresponsible company that's not doing the right thing, we're going to hold you to account."

In his campaign speech in a central Cincinnati neighborhood, Mr. Obama contended that his policies would better serve 98 percent of Americans, while the tax cuts, budget reductions and regulation eliminations championed by his presumed Republican rival, Mitt Romney, would mainly benefit the rich.

Taking microphone in hand in a sometimes-lighthearted town hall event before roughly 1,600 people in and outside the Cincinnati Music Hall, Mr. Obama fielded questions ranging from gas-fracking and job creation to his favorite Girl Scouts cookies -- thin mints.

Mr. Obama has called upon Congress to extend tax cuts for the middle class enacted in the George W. Bush era. But he wants reductions affecting families with annual incomes above $250,000 to expire as scheduled at the end of this year.

Mr. Romney has countered that the Obama plan would raise taxes on small businesses and discourage job creation. The former Massachusetts governor has urged not only permanent renewal of all the tax cuts but also further reductions -- a stance that Mr. Obama said had helped create the nation's current economic woes.

He also kept up his criticism that Mr. Romney's proposals encourage overseas outsourcing of American jobs, while never specifically citing Bain Capital, the private equity firm Mr. Romney once headed, which has been accused of sending jobs abroad as part of its mission to turn around failing firms.

"Today, we have [a study by] nonpartisan economists that says Governor Romney's economic plan would, in fact, create 800,000 jobs," Mr. Obama said. "There's only one problem:. The jobs wouldn't be in America; they'd be in other countries, by eliminating taxes on corporations' foreign income. ...

"Now, this shouldn't be a surprise because Governor Romney's experience has been in investing in corporate pioneers of the business of outsourcing. I want everybody to understand, Ohio: I've got a different theory. ... I want to give tax breaks to companies that are investing right here in Ohio."

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