This week, as the Asia Vision LNG carrier was steaming toward Brazil carrying the first export of liquefied U.S. natural gas, the Democratic candidates for their party’s presidential nomination were promising to vastly scale back or eliminate the technology that made that gas export possible.
At a debate in Michigan last Sunday, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders went after hydraulic fracking. First, Hillary, who was for fracking before she was against it, said she would regulate fracking out of existence, noting that “by the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place.” When she was Obama’s secretary of state, she supported fracking. “I know that in some places [it] is controversial,” she told a group of foreign ministers meeting in Washington, “but natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel available for power generation today.” She later traveled to Poland and announced that the U.S. had joined the Global Shale Gas Initiative.
Then Bernie made his views known. “No, I do not support fracking,” he said. Sanders has also said he would rewrite the Obama administration’s stalled Clean Power Plan to crack down on gas as well as coal, letting renewables drive a promised 80% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.
The Clinton and Sanders animosity toward domestic natural gas, America’s latest energy export, reveals great ignorance of recent energy history. Fracking has transformed the domestic energy landscape during the Obama administration. Heard the phrase “energy crisis” lately? At the time of the debate, during the passage of the Asia Vision, gasoline was selling $1.75/gallon at my local gas station. Gas has been replacing coal for electric generation for almost a decade.
It’s interesting that both Mother Jones magazine and Ted Nordhaus of the Breakthrough Institute, writing in U.S.A. Today, warn that the Sanders plan to cripple natural gas would result in more coal. Nordhaus noted, “Sanders claims that with natural gas production scaled back dramatically, renewable energy will take up the slack. But when natural gas prices briefly spiked back in 2013, that’s not what happened. Instead, coal came back with a vengeance. From January 2012 to January 2014, coal generation increased by more than 20%.”
Mother Jones commented, “There’s a good chance that efforts to restrict fracking could lead to the burning of more coal. About 90 percent of the natural gas used in the United States is produced domestically, according to federal statistics; more than half of that is produced by fracking. The fracking boom has resulted in cheap gas replacing coal as the chief power source in many parts of the country.”
Cynics might observe that what candidates say on the campaign trail have very little to do with what they actually do when in office. That’s almost certainly true about the Democrats and fracking.