"It's cool in places like North Dakota and West Texas. It's cool because it creates significant economic activity," Bush said, according to a transcript. He lauded jobs and argued that the boom is saving consumers billions of dollars at the pump and on power bills.
In the same speech, Bush said Washington "shouldn't try to regulate hydraulic fracturing," but that it should be done "reasonably and thoughtfully to protect the environment."
The comments put Bush at odds with Democratic efforts to boost federal oversight. The Interior Department is preparing to release final regulations to govern fracking on public lands, while EPA is planning new methane emissions standards for new oil and gas development nationwide.
Bush has also lobbed attacks at the Obama administration's environmental regulations, a common refrain among likely Republican presidential contenders. He called EPA "a pig in slop" at the Iowa Agriculture Summit earlier this month and called for action to "rein in this top-down regulatory system."
That stance is likely to play well with conservatives. "Going after the EPA and connecting its actions to harming jobs and economic growth goes a long way with Republican primary voters across the board," veteran Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said.
As a self-described "skeptic," Bush is a far cry from a climate champion, but he also has called on the Republican party to shed its "antiscience" image.
A majority of Republican primary voters do not believe in global warming, according to a national survey conducted by Public Policy Polling last month, and among that skeptical majority, Scott Walker is the front-runner, with Bush trailing far behind.
The challenge Bush faces will be to find ways to appeal to the conservative base on climate change and greenhouse-gas curbs while not backing himself into a corner as an anti-climate-science candidate, a position that would open him up to attack in the general election.
Bush already is attempting to walk a fine line on biofuels, an issue near and dear to many deep-pocketed GOP donors.
At the Iowa Agriculture Summit last weekend, Bush appeased biofuel backers by saying that the renewable-fuel standard—a policy that requires refiners to blend ethanol with gasoline—"has worked" to help America cut reliance on foreign oil.
But Bush was far less supportive of the policy than many would-be GOP 2016 contenders and said that ultimately the market should decide the issue, a potential bid to build up his conservative credentials. "His position of letting the markets decide pushes him center-right," Iowa Republican strategist Craig Robinson said.
That stance could help Bush win support from Iowa donors and conservative primary voters. At the same time, it opens him up to attack from more full-throated backers of the mandate, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and leaves him vulnerable to criticism from a Democratic challenger who could paint him as ready to eliminate a mandate that has become the lifeblood of Iowa's ethanol industry.