Fracking May Decide Pennsylvania

Washington (GGM) Analysis | November 4, 2020 by Michael Wells, Attorney @slnc01

Former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump are locked in a tight battle for the presidency, which may come down to Pennsylvania. Big coal and facking employ many people in Pennsylvania, and, understandably, fracking is a huge issue. All the votes have been cast and are being counted, but the Pennsylvania race (and possibly the presidency) may come down to the issue of fracking. The two candidates’ positions are more similar than you may think.

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is a technique for extracting oil and natural gas by firing pressurized liquid into the Earth’s crust. Trump has long supported the practice and has even signed an Executive Order to protect fracking. Biden’s position has been to say he will not ban fracking, but that he will look towards alternative fuel sources, perhaps in an effort to win key states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio (which he appears to have lost). One indication of how important this issue is in Pennsylvania can be gleaned from Vice Presidential Kamala Harris’s October 6, 2020 tweet:

While Biden and Harris must appeal to the Green New Deal part of the Democratic Party, they must also win key states such as Pennsylvania, which rely heavily on fracking. To what extent this is just politics, remains to be seen, but, given what appears to be a Repulican Senate, legislation to ban or limit fracking does not appear possible. This means this dangerous practice will continue. 

According to an article from Euronews, fracking poses a number of environmental hazards:

  • Methane leaks occur frequently to the tune of one million tons in Pennsylvania per year. The industry only reported 64,000 tons.
  • Methane and other gasses released through fracking are a problem because they trap twenty-five more times heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
  • Fracking pollutes the groundwater supply, which can cause cancer.

From a legal standpoint, the pollution issues pose millions in liability for companies that are not careful. Quite frankly, even if these companies are careful, the risk is quite high. Although not the result of fracking, Flynt, Michigan is a cautionary tale as to what happens when drinking water is contaminated. 

Fracking does supply jobs, upwards of ten million nationally, but, if Biden wins, his energy plan will likely aim to rejoin the Paris Agreement. It is unclear whether fracking as it stands in the United States would violate or otherwise cause problems with the agreement.

Biden has said he opposes fracking on public lands, but it is unclear what exactly this means. Even if Biden were to oppose fracking altogether, it is unlikely he could get a bill limiting or banning it  to pass the Senate due to the Republican majority. 

Fracking’s future remains uncertain in the United States, but it does appear it is not going anywhere anytime soon even after the votes are counted and a victor declared. 

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