Several democratic presidential candidates have proposed fracking bans, but oil companies have room to breathe easily knowing that killing off fracking in the US is a bit too big of a bite for any political party to handle.
But as environmental issues continue to remain front and center in the media, fracking has become a rather easy target that offers political candidates a juicy platform from which they can woo voters.
But is their plan to ban fracking really feasible? And doesn’t the American shale patch already have enough--and bigger--enemies?
Fracking--also called hydraulic fracturing--is a drilling process that involves injecting a high-pressure mixture containing water, sand, and chemicals into shale rock, which fractures the rock and releases the oil and gas that is trapped inside. The process often involves horizontal drilling.
The Benefits of Fracking
The benefits of fracking are numerous. In the United States, the introduction of fracking has completely turned the energy industry upside down, increasing the amount of oil and gas produced in the US “faster than at any time in its history,” according to the EIA, and increasing America’s energy independence in the process. Fracking has also brought down energy prices. Environmentally speaking, fracking has managed to lower carbon emissions by displacing a fair amount of carbon-intensive coal, which is now on the skids.
The entire country is a beneficiary of the fracking boom, without question. And today, 95% of all wells drilled in the US are fracked, according to the API.
The Problem with Fracking
Nevertheless, fracking has its drawbacks, and environmentalists--and the Democratic party that serves them--have singled out fracturing as a one-dimensional evil that must be stopped, at all costs.
The argument against fracking is that the process of fracturing the earth to release tight oil causes earthquakes. The other argument is that injecting chemicals into the earth is polluting nearby aquifers. Both issues have long been debated.
All Aboard the Anti-Fracking Movement!
If you’re a Democrat of the far-left leaning variety, you’re likely already on the anti-fracking train. Political candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren--the latter of whom is no longer in the running for President--jumped on board early and were extremely vocal against fracking.
That leaves Sanders, who is also having a bit of trouble in the polls, as the anti-fracking movement’s best champion.
“Any proposal to avert the climate crisis must include a full fracking ban on public and private lands,” Sanders tweeted last September.
Sanders even teamed up with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others to propose a federal bill to “phase out” fracking nationwide, known as the Ban Fracking Act. The act would start with banning new federal permits for fracking-related infrastructure immediately. Then, by 2021, fracking within 2500 feet of homes and schools would be banned. By 2025, the act would ban fracking in the United States completely, according to Sanders’ website.
But some have argued that neither Sanders nor Warren understands the issue of fracking.
It is also possible that neither Sanders nor Warren fully understands the implications of standing on a platform that would seek to ban fracking.
But what would a fracking ban mean?
The Wrath of the States
A nationwide ban aside, which federally would be problematic as the states are the ones that regulate fracking, fracking-dependent states may not be too excited to endorse a candidate--democratic or not--who opposes fracking outright.
First, Pennsylvania, an important swing state, has enjoyed sucking off the fracking teat, much like it sucks off the coal teat. Democrats tried to take an anti-coal stance there during the last presidential election, but failed to win over the swing state, with Pennsylvania residents opting instead for the more fiscally minded “Trump digs coal” stance. Any anti-fracking candidates will struggle to swing this state back into blue territory.
Colorado, too, may prove challenging for candidates heralding the benefits of a fracking ban. Although a purple state, Big Oil has managed to do quite well here with quashing anti-oil ballot proposals in the past. Voters were asked in 2018 to weigh the merits of increased setbacks for oil and gas wells, which would have taken a significant portion of land off the table for oil and gas drilling. The environmentally friendly measure, however, was defeated.
But Sanders managed to win the Democratic primary in Colorado taking this unforgiving stance, despite the fact that the American Petroleum Institute said a fracking ban would mean a loss of more than 350,000 jobs in Colorado.
New Mexico, too, would take a severe beating from any ban on its bread and butter activity of fracking. According to a study from the US Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute found that a fracking ban could cost the state nearly 16% of its workforce and cut away $86 billion in cumulative GDP through 2025.
Is it Even Feasible?
CNN recently provided a fracking ban “fact check”, pointing out that banning fracking would require an act of Congress. A president without Congress could maybe ban it on federal lands, but private-land fracking would take more oomph than a president has.
Yes, a president could make fracking on private lands a far more difficult endeavor, but Big Oil (and the API) has already proven a worthy foe over other anti-oil legislation, and Big Oil’s win is near certainly. Warren and Sanders are unlikely to be in the dark on this near-certain outcome.
Fracking regulations on federal lands have already been proposed in the past but were consequently ruled unlawful.
Like Sanders and Warren, surely the API must know that any full-on fracking ban proposal is a no-go. Still, the API is already putting on the gloves to go another round, with a passionate campaign to bring to light what it considers to be a devastating effect on the US energy industry and the whole economy.
A Far Greater Nemesis
A far greater foe to fracking than any political candidate would be the market itself--the coronavirus and OPEC’s complete failure to reach a deal with Russia over production cuts have sent oil prices falling to scary lows. These low prices are likely the only immediate thing that the US fracking industry has to worry about at the moment.