Analyzing Warren’s call to ban fracking

When Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential hopeful who grew up in Norman, Oklahoma announced she would ban fracking if elected, it caught more than a few heads in the oil and gas industry.

Political observers, such as Amy Harder at Axiom News found it pretty surprising too. Here’s what she reported on Monday:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is moving more aggressively to the left on energy as she battles Sen. Bernie Sanders for backing from progressives in the Democratic 2020 primary.

Driving the news: On Friday afternoon, Warren tweeted that if elected, she would ban fracking “everywhere.”

  • That position was news to me and, based on my deeply scientific survey, it was news to plenty of activists and experts in the think tank and academia orbit.
  • The Washington Post’s tally of candidates views — which now lists her support for a ban — was updated Sep. 4 to adjust her position “after a clarification from her campaign.”

One big question: An obvious but important one is whether Warren’s “ban fracking” position would be a political liability if she was in a general election matchup against Trump.

  • The oil-and-gas industry is a big economic force in places including Pennsylvania and Colorado.

But, but, but: This is hypothetical politics right now. Warren can’t ban fracking “everywhere” without Congress, which isn’t in the cards. Her campaign acknowledges that banning it would require legislation.

  • Executive power is also limited by the concentration of the boom on state and private lands, although environmental laws provide some federal leverage.
  • The executive has more sway over federal lands, where the Interior Department controls permitting.
  • Warren’s federal lands platform says she’d block issuance of new fossil fuel leases.

Another big question is what a theoretical ban would mean for greenhouse gas emissions. I’m outsourcing this to Carnegie Mellon University’s Costa Samaras. He posted an interesting Twitter thread on Friday night (paaaarty!).

  • He notes there are tradeoffs: lower methane emissions and higher oil prices that make EVs and efficient cars more competitive.
  • However, higher natural gas prices mean coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel, becomes more competitive.
  • But higher natural gas prices would also help existing nuclear plants.