Fracking Ban Rhetoric Sends a Chill Down the Spine

We are still a long way from Nov. 2020, but if one of the Democrat candidates wins the election you are going to need more than President Carter’s cardigan to keep warm. The candidates’ positions on energy and the environment are changing faster than the weather. 

Of course, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has called for a ban on fracking since his 2016 presidential campaign, and now nearly half of the remaining candidates have joined him in calling for a complete ban on fracking, while the other half merely want to limit and regulate the technique. 

We are more than a year away from the Nov. 2020 election, so we can expect the campaign rhetoric to get more extreme as the candidates pander to their base. In response to a question during CNN’s climate town hall, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) stated, “There’s no question I’m in favor of banning fracking.” Then, just two days later, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), perhaps worried she was falling behind in the race for the most extreme climate position, tweeted, “On my first day as president, I will sign an executive order that puts a total moratorium on all new fossil fuel leases for drilling offshore and on public lands. And, I will ban fracking — everywhere.” 

Ban fracking everywhere. That sounds rational. 

For people who claim that climate change caused by man-made CO2 is the existential threat to this very planet, the Democrat candidates seem unreasonably obsessed with hydraulic fracturing, the technique that has led to a dramatic drop in “greenhouse” gases emitted in the United States over the past 10 to 15 years. But then, facts and logic are too much to expect during a presidential campaign. 

This obsession with fracking is not good news for consumers, workers or the oil and gas industry. Based on the experience with the Bureau of Land Management’s “Venting and Flaring” Rule, a ban on fracking on federal land would be devastating for North Dakota. 

In comments on the BLM Rule, the North Dakota Industrial Commission stated that initially more than 97% of surface and mineral estates in North Dakota were privately owned. But, during the Great Depression, that all changed because many small tracts were lost through foreclosure, and the federal government acquired a “patchwork” of small parcels throughout the state. Also, when many of those parcels were later sold, the federal government reserved a portion of the mineral estate. 

The result is that while the federal government owns just 9% of the minerals in North Dakota, nearly 30% of the potential development areas in the Bakken have federally owned minerals. The patchwork of federal mineral rights was not an issue in the past, because spacing units were 160 acres or less so operators could more easily avoid federal land. But now, with tight oil plays like the Bakken, spacing units are 2,560 acres or more, and these large units routinely run into federal mineral ownership. 

If a President Warren bans fracking on federal land, just a small 40-acre federal parcel, which could be two or more miles from a well site, will control the entire spacing unit. Operators will simply avoid those areas and deprive private mineral owners of the opportunity to develop the resources they own. 

The impact will be felt from North Dakota and beyond. In a recent column, Ron Ness, President of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, gave the following facts on the impact of the oil and gas industry in the state: 

  • $32.6 billion contributed to North Dakota’s economy in 2017;
  • 51,400 jobs supported;
  • $2.7 billion in state and local taxes paid;
  • $4.3 billion paid in private wages and salaries in 2018, 23.3% of all private wages and salaries paid in North Dakota;
  • $1.6 billion in royalties paid in the state in 2017. 

Of course, fracking is not just important in North Dakota. Workers, industry and consumers in Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Pennsylvania and elsewhere continue to benefit from the shale revolution. How will the Democrat anti-fracking rhetoric play in those states and across the country? State and local anti-fracking policies have faced significant pushback, notably in Colorado. 

When President Carter put on his sweater and asked us to turn down our thermostats to 65 degrees, his energy policy had coal as the primary source of electricity in the country. Today, based on the energy and climate positions of the candidates, this is the Democrat energy plan: 

Natural gas? No. Oil? No. Nuclear? No. Coal? H*ll No. Wood? If you really need to, but only with an EPA approved stove. 

That is not only radical — it is dangerous. 

For those of us living in the northern half of the U.S., as we head into winter with a solar minimum, we think it is appropriate for voters to pump the brakes on their EVs before we ban hydraulic fracturing. A ban on fracking will come at a tremendous cost and hardest hit will be the poor and elderly among us. And the promised benefit to our environment will never be realized. Winter is coming, stay warm.

About the author: Bette Grande is a Research Fellow for energy and environment issues at The Heartland Institute. She served as a North Dakota state Representative from 1996–2014. Grande was a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Education and Environment Division. She was born and raised in Williston, North Dakota.

1 COMMENT

  1. Let’s get the Government out of the Energy Business. Some cities & States are investing in systems that are either not competitive in cost or contribute to Global Warming. Let the public decide.

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