A proposed fracking ban put forward by leading Democratic presidential candidates would have a devastating impact on U.S. jobs, energy independence, and even national security, according to several studies.
Reports from the American Petroleum Institute, Independent Petroleum Association of America, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce painted a stark picture of the economic fallout from ending fracking, a process which has transformed the United States into the top oil and natural gas producer in the world.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), and Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) are among eight remaining 2020 candidates who have called for an all-out ban on fracking, despite the fact that the drilling method has put the United States on a path to energy independence. The practice has also led to cleaner energy alternatives and lower carbon emissions, a key goal of climate change activists.
Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, is a drilling and extraction method of releasing oil and gas from underground shale rocks, using high-pressure liquid to break them apart.
Environmental opponents argue fracking's positives are offset by issues such as contamination of drinking water, air pollution, methane leaks, links to causing earthquakes, and the lowering of proximate property value.
'A ban ... would destroy more than 14 million jobs'
A 2016 report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found the economy would suffer dramatically if lawmakers banned fracking.
"A fracking ban would be a disaster for the U.S. economy, exceeding the economic harm caused by the financial crisis, the housing bust, and the Great Recession—combined," the report said. "Those concurrent events cost the United States around 8 million jobs. A ban on fracturing would destroy more than 14 million jobs, all while raising costs for families and considerably reducing American energy security."
It explored how a theoretical ban would affect the American economy if begun on Jan. 1, 2017, and it concluded that over five years it would roughly double gas prices, raise natural gas prices by 400 percent, and raise electricity prices by 100 percent.
The spike in energy prices would raise the cost of living by $4,000 a year, and household incomes would drop by $873 billion. The report concluded the U.S. gross domestic product would be reduced by $1.6 trillion.
Texas (1,499,000 jobs lost), Pennsylvania (466,000), Ohio (397,000), and Colorado (215,000) would see more than a combined 2.5 million jobs lost from a fracking ban alone over that span, the report said, taking into consideration its effect on energy prices, incomes, manufacturing, and energy security.
President Donald Trump, a fracking supporter, won Texas, Pennsylvania, and Ohio in the 2016 election, and he lost Colorado by less than 5 points. Last month in Pennsylvania, he lauded fracking's success and the country's energy production.
"We have the greatest resources, which really came about over the last few years," he said. "Nobody knew this. Fracking made it possible. Other new technologies made it possible. And now we’re the number-one—think of it, as I said—the number-one energy producer in the world."
"They wanted to take away your wealth," he added. "They didn’t want you to drill. They didn’t want you to frack. They didn’t want you to do steel. They wanted to take away your wealth."
A spokesman for Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) told the Washington Free Beacon a ban on fracking would be devastating.
"The United States is currently the number one producer of crude oil and natural gas on the planet, surpassing both Russia and Saudi Arabia in crude oil production," Cruz's spokesman said in a statement. "Texas is the leading U.S. producer of both crude oil and natural gas, producing more than one-third of the nation's crude oil, and a quarter of the nation’s natural gas. This success is due in large part to the shale revolution. A fracking ban would be catastrophic to Texas and the United States as a whole—destroying jobs, wreaking economic havoc, and putting our nation’s security at risk."
Sen. John Cornyn (R., Tex.) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.), both up for reelection in 2020, also told the Free Beacon a ban would be ruinous.
"This innovative technology has created tons of jobs, lowered utility bills, and established Texas as a global energy powerhouse," Cornyn said. "This would devastate our country’s leading economy."
"Radical policies like the Green New Deal and a federal ban on fracking would be devastating for Colorado—wiping out billions of dollars of the economy, destroying tens of thousands of jobs, and recklessly inducing an immediate recession," Gardner said. "These are some of the most irresponsible actions any leader can propose."
A separate report from the American Petroleum Institute concluded bans on fracking, fossil fuel production, and other "keep it in the ground" policies would cost 5.9 million jobs and a cumulative GDP reduction of $11.8 trillion. The trade group found the losses would stem from lower economic growth due to lower domestic energy production.
A 2019 report by the National Association of State Energy Officials found the natural gas industry employed 625,639 Americans, with more than a quarter of them (162,928) working in mining and extraction.
The report stated natural gas fuels employed 270,626 workers in 2018. That year, the market increased by 17,000 jobs, or about 7 percent. Mining and extraction jobs supported over 60 percent of the natural gas fuels industry.
The fracking boom has helped the United States become a world leader in natural gas production and consumption. An IHS Markit research firm report in 2018 estimated it would surge another 60 percent over the next 20 years, following a 60 percent increase with the advent of the shale boom in the late 2000s.
The Independent Petroleum Association of America found from 2007 to 2016 that advancements in fracking and horizontal drilling technology helped oil production and natural gas production spike 75 and 39 percent, respectively.
"The shale boom has reshaped the nation's electric grid, fueled a petrochemical boom along the Gulf Coast and created a burgeoning U.S. industry in liquefied natural gas exports," the Houston Chronicle reported. "Of course, the shale oil surge wouldn't have happened without the horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques used to triggered the shale gas revolution."
Another analysis from the nonpartisan Rapidan Energy Group found oil production from shale formations would decrease by 3 million barrels per day over the first year of a ban beginning on Jan. 1, 2022. The advisory firm independently conducted the study for its clients and shared the findings with the media.
Representatives for Warren, Sanders, and Harris did not return requests for comment. Neither did Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.), Sen. Michael Bennet (D., Colo.), or Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), the only Democratic senators from the four states in the study. Sen. Pat Toomey's (R., Pa.) office pointed the Free Beacon to his tweet noting natural gas's critical role in Pennsylvania, while Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) did not reply.
Expert: Fracking ban a threat to national security
Asked for his thoughts on a proposed fracking ban earlier this month on CNBC, International Energy Agency executive director Fatih Birol said it was not a good idea, pointing to the security provided to global markets by the U.S. natural gas boom.
"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," he said. "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 replied he didn't want to comment on U.S. politics, but he reiterated his point that upending the global markets with a fracking ban would be harmful.
Houston Chronicle columnist Chris Tomlinson, a proponent of battling climate change, criticized Democrats in a Sept. 13 piece for making "false or ignorant promises" in their calls for banning fracking.
"Fracking is what provides the U.S. with cheap gasoline," he wrote. "Fracking is what makes OPEC powerless. Fracking is what makes electricity affordable. Fracking is what makes it possible to shut down coal-fired power plants. Fracking is what gives Europe a choice besides Russian natural gas. A ban on fracking would reverse those things, send energy prices skyrocketing and crash the global economy."
The fracking ban debate is likely academic. A Warren or Sanders administration could not ban the practice through executive fiat, although it could pursue a regulatory regime that would make it more difficult. With most fracking taking place on private lands, an act of Congress would be needed to outright banish the practice.
Campaigning on it could be hard, too.
"To say that you would ban fracking is a very difficult position to take in some key states," Democratic strategist Rick Ridder told the Associated Press. "There's an extremely important distinction between local control and banning something."
Pennsylvania Democratic strategist Mike Mikus told the AP calls for banning fracking would make it "tougher" to win in the state. No Democrat has run statewide on such a platform.
"I can't say it eliminates the chance of someone winning, but it makes it tougher," Mikus said.
The Obama administration supported fracking, pointing to natural gas as a cleaner energy alternative to coal, but it unsuccessfully pursued regulation of it. The Bureau of Land Management's regulations in 2015 that were meant to protect water and force companies to disclose what chemicals they used were ultimately ruled unlawful after Wyoming and Colorado took the BLM to court, CNN reported.
Former Obama administration officials have cast doubt on the practicality and efficacy of the climate proposals by leading 2020 Democratic candidates, such as the sprawling Green New Deal.
Ernest Moniz, the former secretary of energy, said in February, "The idea we're going to have by 2050 ... a 100 percent renewable system is not realistic, straightforwardly, certainly at a reasonable cost."
Former Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes testified in front of the Natural Resources Committee in July that it was "impractical and inappropriate to stop oil and gas drilling on our public lands and offshore waters right now."
"I believe that [keeping it in the ground] is not a good way to go," he said. "The reality is that we have a lot of infrastructure on our public lands to produce oil and gas. It’s providing an important contribution to our economy. The issue is not so much the fact that—and I think good points have been made that if there were not oil and gas drilling on our public lands we’d get oil and gas from somewhere else. This is not the majority of the oil and gas provided in the United States."
Hillary Clinton promoted fracking abroad while serving as Obama's secretary of state. By the time she ran for president in 2016, however, she said she would impose enough conditions on the practice that it would likely be impossible.