Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) joined other Democrats in the 2020 primary in endorsing a federal ban on hydraulic fracturing during CNN’s seven-hour town hall event on climate change Wednesday.
Hydraulic fracturing, simply known as “fracking,” is a method of drilling for oil and natural gas that spurred an American energy revolution more than a decade ago, making the United States the world’s largest producer of both oil and natural gas, eclipsing and reducing U.S. dependence on Russia and Saudia Arabia.
Despite its benefits, some Democratic candidates running for president have pledged to ban the practice, arguing that the method of drilling is polluting the air and contaminating the water.
“There’s no question I’m in favor of banning fracking,” Harris declared during the town hall. Harris said she would ban both fracking and offshore drilling if elected president and said she supported efforts to curb the practice in California during her time as the state’s attorney general.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has promoted a fracking ban since his last presidential run in 2016, also doubled down on his position to ban the practice during CNN’s town hall. Sanders made clear of his stance ahead of the event, releasing a statement urging others to adopt the same position.
“Any proposal to avert the climate crisis must include a full fracking ban on public and private lands,” Sanders said. “When we are in the White House, we will end the era of fossil fuels, and that includes fracking.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) also spoke in favor of a ban to stop fracking, specifically on public lands. When pressed by CNN’s Don Lemon on whether he would limit it to public lands, Booker dodged the question but didn’t close the door.
Other candidates have endorsed a ban on the controversial method of drilling including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), billionaire Tom Steyer, and self-help author Marianne Williamson. Some candidates, however, were hesitant to call for a direct ban at the federal level at Wednesday’s town hall.
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro said during CNN’s town hall that he would not call for a national ban on fracking but that he supports local communities that do so and pursue cleaner sources of energy.
Former vice president Joe Biden also said at CNN’s event on climate change that he opposes a nationwide ban on the practice partly because he doesn’t think it would pass Congress. Instead, Biden said he would work to stop “oil drilling or gas drilling on federal lands.”
“I think we should in fact be looking at what exists now and making a judgment whether or not the those in fact that are there, those wells that are there, whether or not they are dangerous, whether or not they have already done the damage,” Biden told the audience.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) took a similar approach, saying she does not support a federal fracking ban but that she would review each fracking permit currently in existence and determine which ones are too dangerous to keep in operation within her first 100 days in office.
“I see natural gas as a transition fuel,” Klobuchar admitted. “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.”
While roundly criticized by Democratic candidates, few can deny the benefits that fracking has provided to the American economy, sparking a revolutionary boom in the energy industry, dramatically lowering gas prices, and providing critical jobs and tax revenue in numerous U.S. communities.
A 2015 study from the Brookings Institute reports that nearly every region in the country has seen significant gains from fracking through lower energy bills, although benefits are more concentrated in areas where the drilling occurs.
A study published in 2016 from the University of Chicago further illustrates that the benefits of fracking substantially outweigh its costs in local areas even after factoring in risks to public health, driving up wages, employment, and housing prices.