By Umair Irfan
The question of what to do about hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, of oil and natural gas has emerged as a rich vein of debate in the 2020 race for the White House. But at the third Democratic presidential debate, it didn’t come up at all, despite the venue being in Texas, a state that has seen massive growth in fracking.
However, candidates have discussed fracking in other forums. Several Democratic presidential contenders including Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Kamala Harris, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have proposed to ban fracking altogether, a stark shift from where the party was just a couple years ago.
“There is no question I am in favor of banning fracking,” Harris said during the CNN climate town hall.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar was a bit more circumspect. “I see natural gas as a transition fuel,” she said at the town hall. “It is better than oil but not nearly as good as wind and solar. I am being honest on what we need to do. We won’t immediately get rid of it.”
Activists have pushed the candidates to address fracking because the boom in hydraulic fracturing has radically reshaped the US economic, energy, political, and environmental landscape.
For policymakers, the difficult choice is deciding whether the benefits outweigh the harm, and if fuels from fracking can be a stepping stone toward cleaner energy. “This is one of those issues where there’s just so much gray,” said Sam Ori, executive director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. “I don’t think that there’s a really clear case that says fracking is necessarily good or bad, on net.”
It’s a microcosm of the broader policy discussion about the role of the fossil fuel industry in the carbon constrained future, whether it should be fought as an adversary or embraced as a partner.