Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) announced last week she would ban fracking "everywhere" if she becomes president, but she wouldn't have the power to do it, an energy expert called it a threat to U.S. national security, and it could hurt her electoral hopes in the key state of Pennsylvania.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, refers to an oil and gas extraction technique performed by breaking up underground shale rock formations. Warren joined fellow 2020 Democratic hopefuls Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) last week in vowing to end the practice once in the White House.
"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," she tweeted. "And I will ban fracking—everywhere."
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.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) September 6, 2019
Environmentalists have long decried fracking as a contributor to pollution and harmful to drinking water and the environment, and they've criticized the energy industry for not finding renewable alternatives.
However, fracking has led to a boom in U.S. natural gas and oil production, creating jobs and affording the country greater energy independence and an ability to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. Natural gas is a cleaner energy option than coal; the Obama administration promoted natural gas production as a coal alternative for that reason.
A 2015 report from the Obama administration's Environmental Protection Agency concluded there was no sign of "widespread, systemic" contamination of drinking water from fracking.
In an interview with CNBC on Monday, International Energy Agency executive director Fatih Birol said climate change was a serious issue but he wouldn't advise stopping oil and gas production.
Banning fracking would have "major implications," he said, and would not be "good news for energy security."
"For example, U.S. natural gas provides a lot of security to the markets," he said. "Up to recently, before the U.S. shale gas revolution, Russia was the country which was dominating alone the gas markets, but the U.S. coming in the picture, there are options for consumers, better for [U.S.] security … Just banning this would not be good news, not only for Americans but also for Europeans."
"So essentially, then, an Elizabeth Warren presidency would be bad for U.S. national security," CNBC anchor Hadley Gamble said.
Birol said he didn't want to get involved in U.S. domestic policies, but he reiterated that upending the global energy revolution brought about by fracking was a bad idea.
Such a comprehensive ban would have to be accomplished through legislation, not executive fiat. Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden has distinguished himself among the leading Democratic candidates in not calling for a ban on fracking.
"We can pass national legislation, but I don't think we would get it done to say all fracking going on ends unless we can say there is some physical security need," Biden said last week at CNN's climate change town hall.
University of Chicago professor Charles Lipson wrote at RealClearPolitics that Warren's proposed executive order was "probably unconstitutional" and fracking allowed the U.S. to not rely on importing oil from nations like Iran and Venezuela.
"This promise gets cheers on the stump, but hydraulic fracturing is the source of America's current energy revolution, the reason why fuel is cheap, and the source of our country’s independence from Saudi, Iranian, and Venezuelan oil," he wrote. "Warren's order is probably unconstitutional. But in modern Democratic Party politics, it's the thought that counts."
University of Colorado professor Roger Pielke Jr., tweeted Warren's plan would not reduce fossil fuel consumption, writing "banning fracking would kill off the entire U.S. oil and gas extraction industry and turn the U.S. into a major importer of fossil fuels."
The Democratic Party's last presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, promoted fracking and other forms of natural gas drilling around the world while serving as secretary of state, although she promised to impose limits on it while running for president, the Free Beacon reported:
At the time, Clinton touted the economic benefits that natural gas development offered to developing countries. She noted that natural gas is the cleanest form of fossil fuel, emitting negligible amounts of sulfur, mercury, and particulate matter and half the carbon dioxide of coal. She said that natural gas development by U.S. allies would reduce dependence on unreliable suppliers like Russia, which has used its energy resources as leverage to achieve strategic ends.
Such a move by Warren also could cause blowback for her in Pennsylvania, one of several key states Democrats need in their column in 2020 that President Donald Trump won in 2016. According to E&E News, more than 80,000 residents are employed in the natural gas industry there.
A Franklin & Marshall College Poll last year showed 50 percent of voters supported the state's fracking industry, with 42 percent in opposition. The same survey did show 55 percent felt its environmental costs outweighed its economic benefits.