At the final presidential debate, Joe Biden promised to create new jobs with a transition to renewable energy, while maintaining that his administration will not ban fracking. Biden said: “Yes, I would transition [away from fossils fuels].” Later that evening at the airport, he clarified, “We’re not going to get rid of fossil fuels. … We’re going to get rid of subsidies for fossil fuel companies.” In particular, the former vice president has repeatedly expressed his opposition to a ban on hydraulic fracturing, though the Trump campaign has since released an ad misleadingly suggesting that Biden wants to end the practice.
Whenever there are discussions about banning fracking outright, media coverage seems to prioritize potential “risks” to Democrats' electoral prospects, or potential economic downturns. Unfortunately, a lot of this coverage misleads on the true stakes, including for Pennsylvania.
For instance, the New York Times quoted absurd claims that a fracking ban would mean “hundreds of thousands” of Pennsylvanians would be “unemployed overnight.”
In reality, about 26,000 people work in all of Pennsylvania’s oil and gas sector.
Still, the Times suggested that any presidential candidate who supports a national fracking ban would risk losing Pennsylvania, calling the issue “a political bet.” A fracking ban “could jeopardize any presidential candidate’s chances of winning this most critical of battleground states — and thus the presidency itself,” the paper wrote.
NPR likewise made dubious pronouncements on the opinions of swing-state voters the focal point of the fracking discussion, reporting that “aggressive” climate action “could push moderate voters in key swing states to reelect President Trump.”
Soon after Thursday’s debate, Quartz explained that Biden and Harris don’t support a fracking ban because it “tempts political suicide in swing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio where fossil fuels still rule.” And the Los Angeles Times described Biden’s opposition to a fracking ban as a “nuanced position.”
There are two big problems with these arguments.
First, journalist David Sirota pointed out, “the idea that a fracking ban is political poison in Pennsylvania” simply “isn’t substantiated by empirical data.”
A January poll of Pennsylvania voters found that more registered voters support a fracking ban (48%) than oppose it (39%). A later CBS/YouGov poll in August found 52 percent of Pennsylvania voters “generally oppose fracking.” These numbers hardly suggest “political suicide.”
Second, there’s simple climate science.
In 2018, the UN announced that carbon pollution needs to be cut by 45% by 2030 to prevent irreversible planetary devastation. Unfortunately, fracking releases large amounts of methane into the atmosphere, which can warm the planet 80 times more than the same amount of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. And recent reporting — including from mainstream outlets like the New York Times — has suggested that fracking is an even bigger contributor to global warming than previously believed.
At the vice presidential debate, Kamala Harris emphasized that her running mate Biden “believes” in science. She claimed he “understands that the West Coast of our country is burning” and “sees what is happening on the Gulf states, which are being battered by storms,” and that he has “seen and talked with the farmers in Iowa, whose entire crops have been destroyed because of floods.”
But on this issue, the science clearly points in one direction: away from fracking.
Finally, banning fracking doesn’t need to mean eliminating jobs. Environmental and labor activists, economists, and scientists have for years discussed the need for a full employment program based on green jobs to serve as a just transition for workers. Green industries could employ many, many workers than fossil fuels — in fact, most already do.
There is no reason for a fracking ban to be “political suicide” — except, maybe, for the fossil fuel industry.