Asked at their recent debate about hydraulic fracturing (fracking), Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders said they opposed the process that has revolutionized and revitalized the oil and natural gas industries in the United States. It’s a peculiar position for candidates who have taken great pains to define themselves as champions of the middle class. But it’s a perfectly understandable stance for them as they pander to the utopian environmental activists who make up a significant segment of the Democratic Party’s primary and caucus voting base.
On the jobs front, fracking has created thousands of good middle-class jobs. As oil and gas prospered because of fracking, industries associated with energy development – steel, trucking, railroads, construction, engineering, etc. – also prospered. More middle class jobs. More economic activity.
On the global energy front, U.S. fracking turned the tables on OPEC and other unfriendly oil producing nations by raising domestic production to the highest levels in recent history. North America now holds the strongest energy hand on the planet, which means foreign policy need not be skewed by U.S. hunger for Middle Eastern and Venezuelan oil.
Also in the new energy picture: Enhanced production of natural gas via fracking reduced the cost of gas, stimulating the electricity generating industry to shift from dirty coal to clean gas, a circumstance Clinton, Sanders and their green friends should applaud.
On the domestic economic front, fracking produced so much oil that, along with a global economic slowdown, the per barrel price fell from $100 to around $30, a spiral no one predicted. While the price collapse has been damaging to the energy industry and has reduced revenues in oil states like North Dakota, the other side of that equation is historically low gasoline prices. And that amounts to a huge and welcome savings for the middle class families and small businesses that Clinton and Sanders claim to care about.
The oil price decline has caused dislocations in oil country. Activity has slowed, but not stopped. North Dakota, for example, still is pumping more than 1 million barrels a day. Prices will rise, but no responsible analyst dares say when. Meanwhile, fracking technologies will improve. The potential for more oil recovery from shale formations is extraordinarily high. The nation’s need for oil and natural gas will not be supplanted soon by wind and solar. Clinton and Sanders should be honest about that. They should explain to their supporters that oil and gas fracking means jobs and cheap energy for the middle class and everyone else.