Chris Casteel The Oklahoman – As Democratic presidential candidates court Oklahomans for votes, some are calling for measures that would sharply curtail fracking and new activity in the oil and gas industry, one of the state’s largest economic engines.
“We have got to take on the fossil fuel industry and all of their lies and tell them that their short term profits are not more important than the future of this planet,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said recently.
Sanders, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, has authored legislation to ban hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, a production method that has contributed to a boom in U.S. supplies of oil and natural gas but has been blamed for earthquakes and water pollution.
The energy industry says a fracking ban would harm Americans by driving gasoline and natural gas prices much higher.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, one of the Democratic candidates on the March 3 presidential primary ballot in Oklahoma, is also backing a fracking ban.
“I will do everything a president can do all by herself on the first day,” Warren said during a recent debate. “I will roll back the environmental changes that Donald Trump is putting in place. I will stop all new drilling and mining on federal lands and offshore drilling.”
Warren, an Oklahoma native, referred in that comment to the fact that a president alone would not have the authority to carry out the climate agenda candidates are promising. Even if the president could restrict drilling and fracking on federally leased land, that comprises a small portion of the energy development in the United States.
Former Vice President Joe Biden said at a campaign appearance in Pennsylvania, among the first states where fracking and horizontal drilling were combined to extract natural gas from shale, that the federal government has “less latitude in what we say we can and cannot do” on state lands.
“I think we should in fact be looking at what exists now and making a judgment whether or not … they have already done the damage,” Biden said.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg have stopped short of calling for a fracking ban.
Klobuchar said recently, “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.”
Klobuchar is calling for a tax on carbon, which would also be a tough sell in Congress.
At the debate last week in Las Vegas, Bloomberg said “we’re not going to get rid of fracking for a while.”
Noting that fracking was used to produce oil and natural gas, Bloomberg said, “It is a technique, and when it’s done poorly, like they’re doing in too many places where the methane gets out into the air, it is very damaging. But it’s a transition fuel … . We want to go to all renewables. But that’s still many years from now.”
Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has also come out against fracking and is a supporter of the Green New Deal legislation that calls for the transition to 100% renewable energy.
Fracking has been around for decades but has come under fire in recent years as it, along with horizontal drilling, has been widely employed to extract oil and gas that was not otherwise recoverable. The underground disposal of water used in fracking operations has resulted in earthquakes in Oklahoma. There have also been concerns about the fracking water being disposed of improperly and the leaks of methane during production.
Candidates have put various timetables on moving the nation to 100% renewable energy but have offered few details about getting there.
Some media outlets have reported that, as Sanders and Warren lash out at the fossil fuel industry, their campaigns have spent millions of dollars on chartered private jets for travel. Campaigning in early caucus and primary states also relies heavily on motor vehicles.
Oklahoma is home to some of the largest independent oil and gas companies in the nation, including ones that helped pioneer the combination of fracking and horizontal drilling.
The Oklahoma Petroleum Alliance, in a recent statement, said, “While proposing a ban on hydraulic fracturing may play well to a narrow political base, the dire consequences it would have on Oklahoma are hard to overstate.”
The Alliance also said such a ban would make the nation more dependent again on foreign oil and disproportionately hurt low-income people through higher prices on gasoline and natural gas.
A spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, which lobbies for the energy industry, said, “A fracking ban would leave working families behind, cost millions of jobs and deliver a major win to countries like Russia. Presidential candidates who stand with American workers must stand against a ban on fracking.”