Democrats have long opposed the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which injects liquid at a high pressure into the ground to extract oil or gas. Following last week’s CNN Environmental Town Hall, the issue has once again become a flash point for 2020 Democrats. Nearly every top-tier candidate has called for an outright ban of the practice, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Kamala Harris (D-CA). While their arguments against fracking typically focus on the potential environmental impact, they conveniently sidestep the economic devastation it could have on Americans.
AR/Intel Insiders: Access a full policy brief on the economic impact of a fracking ban here.
According to a 2019 report by the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO), the natural gas industry as a whole employs 625,369 Americans, 162,928 of whom work directly in natural gas extraction. Fracking has helped make the United States the world leader in natural gas and reduced our dependence on foreign energy sources.
A complete ban on fracking would have farther reaching consequences than just putting U.S. energy production at risk, however. A 2016 study from the U.S. Chamber Of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute concluded that such a ban could lead to major job losses, increased energy costs, and would hinder U.S. economic growth. The study found that eliminating fracking could cost the United States 14.8 million jobs and reduce GDP by $1.6 trillion. It would also hit Americans in their pocketbook by doubling the prices for gas and electricity. According to the report, a ban on fracking would increase the cost of living by nearly $4,000 and reduce household income by $873 billion.
Outside experts agree that putting limits on U.S. energy production would be detrimental to American interests. Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, noted that “up to recently, before the U.S. shale gas revolution, Russia was the country which was dominating alone the gas markets.” Birol argued that a ban on fracking “would have major implications on the market for the U.S. economy, for jobs growth and everything.” He also pointed out that a ban would be bad news for the nation’s energy security.
As 2020 Democrats push their proposals, they will also have to navigate how to sell it in states that have the most to lose from a jobs-killing fracking ban. Making matters more difficult: those states are also ones Democrats need to win in 2020. States like Colorado, Ohio, and Pennsylvania could lose between 215,000 and 466,000 jobs if a fracking ban was instituted, and residents of those states could see a cost of living increase of over $3,500.
Proposing a fracking ban may be red-meat for liberal voters, but Democrats still have to reckon with how the policy would negatively impact Americans across the country.