At Sunday night’s Democratic debate, candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders responded to a question about whether they support the use of hydraulic fracturing. Sanders unsurprisingly held to his radical view on the matter, simply stating “No.” But it was Clinton that threw people off when she made the following statement, hinting at supporting a ban on a process of which she has always touted the benefits:
“I don’t support it when any locality or any state is against it, number one. I don’t support it when the release of methane or contamination of water is present. I don’t support it, number three, unless we can require that anybody who fracks has to tell us what chemicals they are using. By the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place.” (emphasis added)
In fact, such a statement contradicts her February factsheet that acknowledged “natural gas plays a critical role in reducing CO2 and other pollutants” and has “yielded significant public health benefits.”
Secretary Clinton’s newfound opposition to fracking also runs contrary to many other prominent Democrats who support fracking. This includes President Obama, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, and several other elected officials who tout U.S. natural gas production for its substantial climate change and economic benefits.
Fracking Support across the Board
When responding to the question about fracking, Clinton listed her “three conditions” for why she doesn’t support the technique. She began by claiming she doesn’t support it when any “locality or state is against it.” Clearly Secretary Clinton hasn’t been speaking with state leaders while on the campaign trail, as officials from both parties have openly supported fracking.
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) – a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee – for example, recently spoke about how cheap, abundant natural gas from fracking has helped boost the manufacturing industry in Minnesota and across the country. As Sen. Franken said,
“But most of the fracking that we’ve been doing, is what we’ve had a revolution in, in natural gas. And because of that, we’ve lowered the cost of manufacturing in this country tremendously because of the electricity that we do, with very cheap natural gas… Minnesota produces no fossil fuels whatsoever, but we use a lot of natural gas in our manufacturing and it’s beneficial…”
Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) of Colorado has pointed to the increased use of natural as the “only realistic way” to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) has said a ban on fracking “doesn’t make a lot of sense” as the process uses much less water than activists claim and would increase California’s reliance on foreign oil. President Obama has touted natural gas development as a job creator and way to cut emissions multiple times, even mentioning it in his State of the Union.
Even Secretary Clinton’s own campaign advisor, John Podesta, said opposing all fossil fuels is “completely impractical” during a roundtable discussion on climate change at the White House:
Asked about the criticism, Podesta spoke generally, saying the country would benefit if more power plants relied on gas.
“So I think we remain committed to developing the resource and using it, and we think there’s an advantage, particularly in the electricity generation sector, to move it forward,” he said
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) clearly summarizes this bipartisan support for fracking, as he said in an MSNBC interview,
“Overall, the Democrats throughout the country have supported fracking. The President has, most of us have, and it’s worked quite well.”
In her explanation of why she is now opposed to fracking (or at least believes it should be seriously curtailed), Clinton incorrectly pointed to two health-related claims often pushed by anti-fracking activists: potential water contamination from the process, and the myth that compounds used in fracking are not disclosed.
To the first point, the U.S. EPA released a draft of its five-year, comprehensive study on fracking last year, which found that “hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources.” This finding has been proven time and time again.
Clinton’s next claim – that companies are not required to disclose the makeup of fluids used in fracking – could not be further from the truth. While each state sets different requirements, most states are required to disclose additives through FracFocus, a national hydraulic fracturing chemical registry. Additionally, some states go beyond that, providing health professionals and emergency responders full access to the information.
Given her previous support of domestic oil and natural gas development, one might wonder: why the flip-flop? It would be reasonable to assume Senator Sanders’ extreme anti-fossil fuel views could be playing a role, forcing Clinton to move even more to the fringe in an effort appease the vocal minority of activists in the Democratic Party. If true, it would mean her new position is about votes, not science.
However, a recent University of Texas (UT) Energy Poll shows this stance doesn’t play well to the population as a whole. According to the poll, among those familiar with hydraulic fracturing, 47 percent support it, compared to the 37 percent who oppose it – a full 10 point margin.
Domestic oil and natural gas development has been profoundly beneficial for the U.S. economy and environment. Fracking provides hard working men and women with good paying jobs, puts more money in their pocket through cheaper electricity and lower heating bills, and has helped CO2 emissions reach 20 year lows.
These benefits, coupled with the overwhelming support for fracking from both Republicans and Democrats, make Hillary Clinton’s more extreme stance on banning it all the more puzzling. If you’re trying to win an election, why take a position that alienates most Americans and will only partially appease a fringe group of voters?