Opinion

Democrats Understand Breadth of Fracking Bans, Not Consequences Amid COVID-19

The upcoming presidential election has rightfully taken a backseat as the nation grapples with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Americans are teleworking and social distancing themselves while keeping an eye on the plunging stock market rather than the latest polling results.

When we emerge from this crisis, and we most certainly will, the question of who will next occupy the Oval Office will once again become a primary topic of conversation. And hopefully at that point, voters will no longer be in the dark about presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s stance on a policy that stands to jeopardize our role as a leading global energy player and impact the energy sector’s ability to provide affordable and reliable energy to Americans — domestic energy production. 

In a recent CNN debate, the former vice president squared off with then-presidential candidate Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) and the only major news emerging was the back-and-forth between the two candidates about the future of domestic fracking. Under pressure from his progressive opponent whose supporters have long called for an end to all fracking in the United States, Biden pledged “No more  — no new fracking … no more drilling on federal lands.” Viewers were likely left confused as this new pledge appeared to differ from his previous policy positions.

A campaign spokesman soon clarified that the former vice president was referring to his policy to ban new permits for oil and gas drilling on federal lands and offshore. No doubt Biden is walking a tightrope to preserve his general election chances in states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, where oil and natural gas operations are central to the state economy and workforce.

Beyond the lack of clarification on where Biden stands on an outright fracking ban — or indeed perhaps where he may end up given pressure from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party — is the question of whether he has considered the ramifications should his campaign rhetoric become a reality. Specifically, the economic and national security consequences of crippling one of our critical economic sectors that has turned the United States from an energy importer to an energy leader.

Since 1953, the United States has imported more energy than it exported, even when trade volumes were much lower in the 1950s and 60s.

Fast forward to last year, when the Energy Information Administration announced that the United States would become a net energy exporter by 2020 thanks in large part to developments in the country’s Bakken, Permian and Marcellus shale resources, where fracking is used to extract natural gas and crude oil.

That production has allowed the United States to become a valuable partner for several nations previously dependent on Russia for its energy resources, such as Ukraine.

This obviously unsettles international rivals such as China and Russia, likely motivating the two countries to cozy up through projects such as the $400 billion Power of Siberia pipeline connecting a Siberian gas field to a northeastern China city. This coordination indicates an obvious decline in influence in countries that’ve turned to the United States for energy.

Should Biden implement his policy, as clarified post-debate, to ban fracking and federal leasing for natural gas and oil development, the economic cost to states reliant on the energy sector would be detrimental. Texas, California, Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio could sustain 3.6 million total job losses by 2022 and 7.5 million, nearly 5 percent of the country’s total jobs, a year later.

This doesn’t just impact those working in the sector. American households can expect to fork over an added $618 per year in energy costs as gasoline, residential natural gas, and electricity prices increase significantly. Further, with economic outlook bleak for the remainder of 2020, an added fracking operations ban in 2021 could instigate a $7.1 trillion gross domestic product loss by 2030 while having to import a fifth of its energy from foreign suppliers.

In the aftermath of the coronavirus and the havoc it wreaked on Wall Street, America is going to need strong economic policies to move forward and recover as a nation. Devastating one of our critical economic sectors, and one especially hard hit during this pandemic, would be foolhardy.

A fracking ban would be an economic body blow, causing devastating job losses and allowing our rivals to take our place on the global energy stage. Before the presidential campaign is moving at full speed again and Election Day is upon us, Americans need to know the costs of certain policy statements coming out of the former vice president’s mouth — clarified or otherwise. 

 

James “Spider” Marks is a retired U.S. Army major general and strategic adviser to the GAIN Coalition — Grow America’s Infrastructure Now.

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