TUNKHANNOCK, Pa. -- Flanked by water trucks sporting campaign signs and bearing the words "Vote Romney for President," the former Massachusetts governor used his Thursday appearances in central and northeastern Pennsylvania to look ahead to the general election.
No references were made to former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum or to the rest of the GOP primary field as Mitt Romney slammed Barack Obama as an "anti-energy president," claiming that the Democratic incumbent has hindered development of the nation's oil, natural gas and coal resources.
"For years, this technology using fluids -- fracking technology -- to bring gas and oil out of the ground has been employed and innovated and has been regulated by the states," he told the crowd of several hundred, dotted with well-site workers in flame-retardant work shirts.
"But now this president has eight different agencies trying to fight their way to become regulators of the gas extraction technology known as fracking. And the intent, of course, is to slow down the development of our own resources."
It was a welcome critique in Wyoming County, where drilling rigs and pipeline projects could be seen from the rural roads leading to the water-hauling company where Mr. Romney spoke.
The state Department of Environmental Protection secretary has traded barbs repeatedly with officials at one of the agencies Mr. Romney was referring to, the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The state DEP under Republican Gov. Tom Corbett has viewed the federal government as overreaching into its regulation of the drilling industry.
Most recently, the EPA has intervened in Dimock, where faulty well construction led to several methane leaks from Cabot Oil & Gas wells into some nearby water wells. State officials had deemed that after several years of providing water to those families, Cabot no longer was required to do so, but the EPA then decided to conduct its own investigation.
Mr. Romney also quipped that Mr. Obama's stated "all of the above" policy on energy sources is a veiled reference to the fact that he favors renewable energy -- sources that come from above the ground, such as wind and solar -- over underground sources such as oil and gas.
"I'm actually for everything that comes from above and everything that comes from below," Mr. Romney said, drawing applause for voicing support for the Keystone XL pipeline project that would carry oil from Canada. "I want to get energy in this country and become energy secure."
He extended his criticism beyond Mr. Obama's policies on energy, arguing that "almost everything he has done has made it harder for this economy to recover."
A spokesman for the Obama campaign responded that Mr. Romney "has advocated a backward-looking drilling -- and drilling alone -- strategy that wouldn't allow America to take control of our energy future."
During both his Pennsylvania appearances Thursday, Mr. Romney asked the audience to show its support for him in the April 24 primary, but he reserved his strongest pleas for a big general election turnout in the battleground state.
"I want to win Pennsylvania in November," he told supporters on a rooftop deck, several floors above his Harrisburg campaign office. "I'm going to win Pennsylvania in November."
Mr. Romney's nearest competitor for the nomination, Mr. Santorum, campaigned across the state Wednesday before heading to his northern Virginia home for the Easter weekend.
A new survey from Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm, on Thursday showed Mr. Romney taking the lead from Mr. Santorum in Pennsylvania, 42 percent to the native son's 37 percent.
Among those voters with an increasingly favorable view of Mr. Romney is Gil Depew, a 61-year-old retiree from the northeastern town of Clifford, who attended the afternoon rally.
Mr. Depew said he's supported Mr. Santorum in the past, including in his 2006 U.S. Senate defeat, but that he views Mr. Romney as more electable and closer in line with his fiscal-conservative positions.
"I like Santorum. I like Gingrich, too," he said. "It's just Romney's time."electionspresident - electionspa
Laura Olson: email@example.com or 1-717-787-4254. Karen Langley contributed.