Environmental issues were discussed in detail at a recent Democratic debate, held in in Flint Michigan on March 6. Sadly, when asked whether the candidates support hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” a technique that has greatly increased oil and natural gas production in the United States, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and current U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) showed they are both fracking clueless.
Fracking has nearly doubled the amount of oil produced in the United States since 2008, and it is largely responsible for the dramatic drop in gas prices the country is currently experiencing. It has also made the United States the largest producer of natural gas in the world, which has put thousands of people to work in high-paying jobs over the past decade.
Clinton delivered a measured response to the fracking question. She first voiced her modest support for fracking, but she also said she does not support fracking in areas where it is opposed by the local or state government; when methane or other water contamination occurs; and Clinton said she does not support fracking unless drillers are required to disclose the chemicals used in the process.
These conditions are not surprising. Even Clinton and Sanders pay lip service to protecting the rights of states and localities—so long as it agrees with their worldview—every once in a while.
Clinton’s next comments, however, were quite surprising: “By the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place.”
Contrary to Clinton’s claims, these conditions are already in place around the country, which is why Democrats such as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper—who has a master’s degree in geology and experience in the oil and gas industry—have supported fracking when it’s accompanied by strict environmental regulations.
Clinton’s comments were likely carefully designed to protect Clinton against claims that have been made by the Sanders campaign suggesting Clinton would not be a good protector of the environment. Sanders has been an outspoken critic of hydraulic fracturing for many years, and Clinton wants to appear tough on fracking to appeal to the many voters in her party who see environmental issues as a key concern.
Sanders’ response was blunt and without nuance. “My answer is a lot shorter,” said Sanders. “No, I do not support fracking.”
Sanders continued by stating his opposition to the practice is based on the idea fracking contaminates water quality, a charge that is unsubstantiated by the best available scientific data.
Despite concerns about the potential environmental impacts of fracking, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s extensive, five-year scientific study on fracking found no evidence hydraulic fracturing has led to a widespread, systemic impact on groundwater quality, and although there have been incidences where fracking has contaminated water, the number of incidences is very low compared to the number of wells drilled.
Whether Democrats like it or not, fracking is now a necessary part of the modern U.S. economy. The United States generates only .04 percent of our total energy from solar energy and only 1.4 percent of our total energy from wind power, for a combined total of 2.1 percent. By comparison, the United States generates 2.2 percent of its total energy from burning wood.
Oil represents 35 percent of the total energy we use, and natural gas accounts for 28 percent of our total energy consumption. In order to access these resources and their benefits, which include thousands of high-paying jobs and energy security, we must take advantage of hydraulic fracturing.
This is a serious issue, so it’s unfortunate neither candidate has taken the time to develop a fact-based position on it. Sanders’ view proves his energy policies are completely divorced from reality, and Clinton’s assertion that her stipulations would greatly restrict fracking is blatantly untrue. Rather than pander to the environmental wing of the Democratic Party, Sanders and Clinton should take a trip to Denver to learn a thing or two about fracking.