This has been an election campaign like no other. But amid so many surprises and so much controversy, some critical policy debates have been mostly overlooked. In the case of energy policy, millions of American workers may not realize their jobs are under threat, and they deserve to know why.
The threat comes from “keep it in the ground” groups totally opposed to fossil fuels, and the influence they are exerting over some political candidates this year. Groups like 350.org and Food & Water Watch want to ban hydraulic fracturing, often called fracking, an essential technology for producing domestic oil and natural gas. And the candidates have taken notice.
“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,” presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said during the Democratic primary. “I’m going to pledge to stop fossil fuels,” she said at another time.
During the primary, Clinton was competing with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders for the support of “keep it in the ground” activists. “Let me make it as clear as I can be … we are going to ban fracking in 50 states of this country,” Sanders said.
While Sanders eventually lost the primary to Clinton, he ensured that Bill McKibben – founder of 350.org and the leader of the “keep it in the ground” campaign – was appointed to the Democratic Party’s platform committee. McKibben has called for a “full-scale war” on global warming and pins the label of “climate denier” on anyone of proposes a single new oil and gas well.
The pressure coming from the environmental left should concern us all, because banning fracking would be extraordinarily costly. According to a new report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation would lose 14.8 million jobs nationally by 2022, and not just in energy. The drastic reduction in domestic oil and gas supplies would drive up prices and return us to dependence on foreign energy imports, sending shockwaves through the economy and hurting other sectors like manufacturing.
“A ban on hydraulic fracturing would result in Ohio losing 400,000 jobs, with union jobs comprising a significant portion of this total,” the report from the Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy states. “Our modeling indicates that $33 billion in state GDP in Ohio would be lost, with the majority of those losses attributed to the higher costs for energy that Ohio businesses would be forced to pay.”
These costs would also hit family budgets very hard. According to the report, living expenses for the average American household would jump by almost $3,500 per year. In Ohio, it would be worse, to the tune of $4,000 a year.
True, this has been an unorthodox year in American politics. But it’s stunning that any candidate – on the left or right – would play along with the idea of a national fracking ban when the economic impacts are so drastic. People not competing for votes from the radical left know better. Even President Obama has rushed to take credit for the lower energy prices made possible by fracking. “Gas is $2 a gallon,” he boasted in a recent speech. “Thanks, Obama!”
It’s tempting to shrug off the things candidates say on the campaign trail. So-called political experts will dismiss these remarks – and even full-fledged policy proposals – as unrealistic promises the candidates know they can’t keep.
But in the case of energy policy, we shouldn’t let the candidates off the hook, not when the stakes are so high. We should take them at their word, unless and until they are willing to retract those troubling statements.
And we should all ask ourselves why these candidates caved under pressure from “keep it in the ground” groups in the first place. Because if it happened once, it could happen again.
Shawn Bennett is Executive Vice President of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association.