By Drew Johnson
Washington Governor Jay Inslee recently signed a permanent statewide ban on fracking, the drilling technique that has made America the world’s top producer of natural gas. And U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders just called for a nationwide fracking ban. Both these 2020 presidential candidates believe that banning fracking will help fight climate change. They are dead wrong.
Fracking actually drives down carbon emissions by unlocking new stores of natural gas – the cleanest burning fossil fuel. Rather than ban fracking, pragmatic environmentalists ought to embrace it. Fracking enables energy companies to tap natural gas reserves in underground shale rock formations. Our natural gas output has spiked 50 percent since 1990.
As natural gas became more abundant, prices plummeted. Many power plants abandoned coal and switched en masse to this cheaper fuel. Today, 35 percent of America’s electricity comes from natural gas, while just 27 percent comes from coal. At the turn of the century, coal provided half of America’s electricity – natural gas provided just 16 percent.
The transition away from coal has been great for the environment since burned natural gas produces only half as much carbon dioxide as burned coal. Thanks largely to our increased reliance on natural gas, the United States leads the world in cutting carbon emissions. U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are near the lowest point they have been in 25 years. Large power plants reduced their emissions by 4.5 percent from 2016 to 2017.
Fracking bans would reverse this progress. If natural gas had not begun to displace coal, 2018 emissions would have been 15 percent higher, according to the International Energy Agency. Despite the drop in emissions, many environmentalists still oppose fracking. They claim the technique toxifies soil and groundwater and releases harmful pollutants into the air. But government research, including a study by the Environmental Protection Agency, has found that such contamination is exceedingly rare.
Activists also claim that fracking companies cannot safely dispose of the water they use in drilling operations. They fail to mention that, to avoid this issue, fracking wells reuse 90 percent of drilling water.
Just ask Stanford professor Mark Zoback, a member of the panel that advised President Barack Obama on the consequences of fracking. Zoback has repeatedly praised the safety of fracking and suggested it as the solution to our ever-increasing energy needs. He notes that natural gas is “a much cleaner fuel” compared to coal.
Or ask former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, who actually drank fracking fluid to prove its safety. “Based on experience and science, I recognized that fracking was one of our very best and safest extraction techniques,” Hickenlooper wrote in his memoir. “Fracking is good for the country’s energy supply, our national security, our economy, and our environment.”
Even Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer noted in 2016 that, “Overall the Democrats throughout the country have supported fracking. [President Obama] has, most of us have, and it has worked quite well.”
2020 Democratic candidates like Jay Inslee and Bernie Sanders are pushing for fracking bans to appease far-left activists. But if those activists looked at the facts, they would see that fracking has helped cut emissions more than any other technology.
Drew Johnson is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.