President Trump and Joseph R. Biden have been talking about fracking on the campaign trail, but it’s about more than hydraulic fracturing. They’re talking about the future of U.S. energy.
The engineering feat that transformed a nation once dependent upon the Middle East into the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas has become shorthand for the debate over whether America continues to ride the fossil fuel wave or shuts it down in the name of climate change.
Making the shale revolution possible was fracking, an extractive technology invented in the 1940s that injects a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals into underground rock formations to release the oil and gas embedded within.
“We can’t do it without fracking,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance oil and gas trade association. “Over 90% of the wells in the United States are fracked now. We have very few conventional resources, the Gulf of Mexico being one example. Otherwise, everything has to be fracked.”
With conventional oil fields, such as those in Saudi Arabia, “you poke that straw into the ground and it flows naturally,” she said. “But you poke that straw into the shale, because the shale is very nonporous. It won’t flow without fracking.”
As Republicans cheer America’s long-sought energy independence and Democrats and environmental groups seek to move beyond the shale revolution to a green-energy future, hydraulic fracturing has risen to the campaign forefront.
Mr. Trump has embraced fracking. Mr. Biden says he would not ban fracking but would prohibit it on public lands and seek to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, which would mean replacing coal, oil and natural gas with renewable energy sources, rendering fracking obsolete.
“Nobody’s going to build another coal-fired plant in America. No one’s going to build another oil-fired [plant] in America,” Mr. Biden said at Tuesday’s presidential debate. “They’re going to move to renewable energy.”
Meanwhile, the president has wielded the fracking issue as a cudgel, especially in swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, where hydraulic fracturing in the oil-and-gas rich Marcellus Shale has driven an economic boom.
“Biden reiterated his pledge to require net-zero carbon emissions,” Mr. Trump said at a rally last week in Pittsburgh. “That’s basically saying, do you know what that is? There’ll be no more oil, there’ll be no more gas, there’ll be no more nothing, there’ll be no more industry, there’ll be no more country. That’s what it’s saying really.
“And that would instantly shut down fracking and mining immediately in Pennsylvania, sending your jobs overseas, sending your money to somebody else, not you.”
Mr. Biden has countered by promising his clean energy transformation would create millions of jobs with a massive infrastructure overhaul, including retrofitting 4 million buildings, replacing gas-fueled cars with electric vehicles and ending the electrical grid’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Mr. Biden’s Clean Energy Revolution and Climate Justice plan comes with a price tag of $2 trillion, but he said it would “pay for itself as we move forward.”
“We can get to net zero in terms of energy production by 2035,” Mr. Biden said. “Not only not costing people jobs, [but] creating jobs.”
While Mr. Trump has painted his Democratic opponent’s plan as a radical job-killer, Mr. Biden is a centrist compared with many in his party, including his running mate Sen. Kamala D. Harris, California Democrat, who called during the primary for a fracking ban.