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Commentary By Robert Bryce

Bernie Sanders's Plan to Punish the Working Class

Energy Technology

On Monday, during a campaign event in New York, Senator Bernie Sanders declared his intent to impose a nationwide ban on hydraulic fracturing.

By doing so, Sanders has made clear his intent to ruin the U.S. economy, put people out of work, and make Americans totally reliant on imported oil. Indeed, Sanders, the avowed liberal, has just proposed one of the most illiberal policies imaginable.

“Sanders claims the [fracking] process is a danger to our water supply. Numerous studies have found the exact opposite.”

To justify his plan to end hydraulic fracturing — the process used by energy companies to unlock hydrocarbons from shale deposits by pumping sand, water, and a smidgen of chemicals under high pressure into the well bore — Sanders used a series of fibs and unadulterated gibberish.

According to the New York Times, Sanders said: “The growing body of evidence tells us that fracking is a danger to our water supply, our most precious resource. It is a danger to the air we breathe. It has resulted in more earthquakes. It is highly explosive. And it is contributing to climate change.”

Sanders claims the process is a danger to our water supply. Numerous studies have found the exact opposite. Most notable among them is the EPA’s study, which found that while hydraulic fracturing has led to a few incidents of contamination, the process has “not led to widespread systemic impacts to drinking water resources in the United States.”

Last month, Amy Townsend-Small, a geologist from the University of Cincinnati released the findings of her three-year study of water quality and hydraulic fracturing. Townsend-Small and her colleagues studied drinking-water wells in a region where several hundred gas wells were being drilled to see whether the water wells were being contaminated by methane from the drilling process. Their conclusion: “We haven’t seen anything to show that wells have been contaminated by fracking.”

In 2012, the University of Texas Energy Institute released a report that reached this conclusion:

"There is at present little or no evidence of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing of shales at normal depths. No evidence of chemicals from hydraulic fracturing fluid has been found in aquifers as a result of fracturing operations. As noted in a subsequent section, it appears that the risk of such chemical additives is greater from surface spills of undiluted chemicals than from actual fracturing activities."

In 2011, the MIT Energy Initiative released a 170-page report on natural gas. It concluded that “the fracturing process itself poses minimal risk to the shallow groundwater zones that may exist in the upper portion of the wellbore.” It went on, saying

"The physical realities of the fracturing process, combined with the lack of reports from the many wells to date of fracture fluid contamination of groundwater, supports the assertion that fracturing itself does not create environmental concerns."

Sanders claimed that fracturing is “a danger to the air we breathe.” But he provided no facts, just hyperbole. The process of hydraulic fracturing (which relies on large diesel-powered pumps) almost always occurs in rural areas far from cities, so it’s nonsensical to say it is a danger to most Americans. Further, when burned, natural gas — which is one of the main products of fracturing — is far cleaner than coal. Furthermore, when natural gas displaces diesel fuel in buses, trucks, and other heavy vehicles, it reduces tailpipe emissions. Therefore, natural gas actually helps make urban air cleaner.

Sanders claimed the process has caused earthquakes. I’ll stipulate that there is a correlation between seismicity and the amount of water that fracturing operations pump into wastewater-disposal wells. The increased seismicity is obvious in my home state of Oklahoma. But then Sanders said, “It is highly explosive.” Huh? To what, exactly, is the esteemed senator from Vermont referring? The process of pumping sand and water into the well is not explosive. Sure, the fuels that are produced by fracturing — natural gas, petroleum, and natural-gas liquids — can, if mishandled and exposed to a spark or flame — be made to explode. But what does that — as my father used to say — have to do with the price of eggs in China?

If Sanders wants to talk about the dangers of energy production, he should mention that wind turbines are a deadly hazard to birds of prey and bats. Or he might mention that big solar-reflector projects such as the Ivanpah solar facility in California are quick-frying passing birds in mid air. Or maybe he’d like to discuss the environmentally destructive process of rare-earth element production. Without elements such as neodymium and terbium, we wouldn’t be able to produce energy from wind turbines.

Finally, Sanders says hydraulic fracturing is contributing to climate change. This is nonsense. Domestic natural-gas production is now about 91 billion cubic feet per day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Association. That’s an increase of about 27 billion cubic feet per day since August 2006. That increase is roughly equal to the combined gas output of three OPEC-member countries: Iran, Algeria, and Venezuela.

Domestically produced low-cost natural gas is surging and is now displacing coal in electricity generation. The result is that coal (which emits about twice as much carbon dioxide as gas during combustion) now provides about 30 percent of domestic electricity, down from 40 percent just a few years ago, as reported on CNBC in July 2015. Over the past decade, that reduced coal use has helped the U.S. cut its carbon dioxide emissions by about 500 million tons per year. That’s more than any other country in the world over that time period.

Sanders claims, ad nauseam, that he is all about the working class. But the surge in natural-gas production is attracting huge amounts of new industry to the U.S. and, in the process, creating good-paying blue-collar jobs. In 2014, the American Chemistry Council estimated that low-cost energy was attracting about $100 billion in new manufacturing capacity in the U.S.

Hydraulic fracturing is saving consumers money. Two weeks ago, the American Automobile Association estimated that lower gasoline prices — which are a direct result of the shale revolution and hydraulic fracturing — have saved U.S. motorists about $130 billion over past 15 months alone. In 2015, those savings amounted to $565 per licensed driver. Those savings are on top of the $14 billion motorists saved in 2014, from lower oil prices.

So here’s a summary of Sanders’s energy position, based on his campaign website: He is anti-nuclear, anti-oil, anti-coal, and anti–natural gas. Those four sources now provide nearly 91 percent of the world’s energy needs. (Hydropower provides another 7 percent.) Sanders continually rails against the wealthiest 1 percent in America. But by opposing the low-cost energy that has resulted from hydraulic fracturing — and in turn, declaring that we must get all of our energy from the 2 percent of global energy that now comes from the sun and the wind — he is opposing the interests of the poor and the working class.

In short, Sanders’s energy policy provides a prime example of how the Left is betraying the very people they claim to represent.

This piece originally appeared at National Review Online


Photo by Brett Carlsen / Stringer

This piece originally appeared in National Review Online