Fracking and the Democratic Presidential Debate: What You Need to Know

Friday, January 17, 2020

At Tuesday night’s Democratic debate in Iowa, presidential candidates took to the stage to discuss some of the most pressing issues – particularly in the energy space. These topics included climate change, infrastructure, the future of oil and natural gas development, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Considering this focus, we’ve broken down the candidates’ statements and stances, providing context – and corrections – to what was said. 

ON INFRASTRUCTURE

Several candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden, shared their plans to invest in infrastructure across the United States. Joe Biden mentioned his climate plan, which calls for “rebuilding our roads, bridges, buildings, the electric grid, and our water infrastructure… to be used to prevent, reduce, and withstand a changing climate.” During Tuesday’s debate, Biden stated that every new highway built under his administration would be a “green” highway, touting that the effort would create millions of great paying jobs. 

Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg also took the opportunity to highlight his “green infrastructure” plan. Buttigieg’s plan includes “creat[ing] six million well-paying jobs” and “invest[ing] in sustainable infrastructure that enables 50 percent of U.S. counties to grow over the next 10 years.”

What you need to know:

If candidates want to create jobs and lower emissions, investment in oil and natural gas infrastructure, particularly pipelines, is key. Per every mile of crude oil or natural gas pipeline constructed, 24.1 and 57.9 jobs are supported, respectively. From 2014 to 2024, pipelines will also contribute as much as $2 billion for Texas in new state and local tax revenue. 

Contrary to the claims of several candidates however, pipelines are also incredibly safe. Nationally, pipelines have a 99.999% safety rating – making them the safest and most efficient means of transporting oil and natural gas products. 

Oil and natural gas infrastructure will also lower emissions in Texas and beyond. Growing pipeline capacity both in Texas and across the United States will alleviate the bottleneck issues that many energy producers face. This will be of particular importance for the associated natural gas that is produced alongside oil, as it will allow operators to safely and widely distribute it to consumers. This will ultimately reduce flaring, as well as other emissions. 

ON BANNING FRACKING 

Both Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) continued their unrealistic – and economically disastrous – calls for a ban on hydraulic fracturing. Billionaire Tom Steyer, who has fashioned himself as the “climate candidate” despite making his money investing in fossil fuels, also stated he would call for a fracking ban, claiming “We need to stop the expansion of all forms of fossil fuel infrastructure and production.”

Bernie Sanders stated: “Let’s be clear, if we as a nation do not transform our energy system away from fossil fuel, not by 2050, not by 2040, but unless we lead the world right now, not easy stuff, the planet we are leaving our kids will be uninhabitable and unhealthy.” Sanders continued to call oil and gas development a “national crisis” and called for America “to take on the fossil fuel industry and all of their lies.” 

Elizabeth Warren echoed Bernie Sanders’ sentiments: “Understand this, we have known about this climate crisis for decades.” Last fall, Warren had tweeted: “On my first day as president, I will sign an executive order that puts a total moratorium on all new fossil fuel leases for drilling offshore and on public lands. And I will ban fracking—everywhere.”

When asked, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said she does not support a ban on fracking, but would rather reinstate the regulations on methane emissions and flaring that the Trump administration rolled back. 

What you need to know: 

Fracking is used in 95% of all oil and gas wells in the United States, and plays a critical role in our nation’s economy. A fracking ban would unleash a tide of devastating effects. One report found that a ban would result in the loss of nearly 19 million jobs nationwide by 2025, and reduce U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by $7.1 trillion. Further, the study found that a fracking ban would double gasoline prices and quadruple electricity prices.

Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), told CNBC a fracking ban would have “major implications” not only for the United States, but also for the world:

“This would have major implications on the market for the U.S. economy, for jobs growth and everything, and not good news for energy security, because for example U.S. natural gas provides a lot of security to the markets.” (emphasis added)

ON NATURAL GAS AS A TRANSITION FUEL 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she supports natural gas as a fuel to transition the nation away from coal, stating: “When it comes to the issue of fracking, I actually see natural gas as a transition fuel. It’s a transition fuel to where we get to carbon neutral."

What you need to know: 

Natural gas provides a clear-cut path to reducing CO2 emissions in the United States and across the globe. Natural gas emits 55% less carbon dioxide than coal when used for power generation. Paired with the fact natural gas is abundant and low-cost, it is a clear climate winner.  

Between 2005 and 2018, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) calculated reductions in U.S. CO2 emissions are “attributable specifically to shifts from coal to natural gas.” In fact, the increased use of natural gas over other fossil fuels for electricity generation led to a reduction of more than 2.8 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions over this period, making natural gas the largest source of energy-related carbon savings.

The EIA reported that in 2017, there were 18 states that primarily relied on coal for electricity generation - including Sen. Klobuchar’s home state, Minnesota. Transitioning those states to natural gas for electricity generation will enable the United States to continue reducing emissions while also protecting consumers from higher energy prices.