It’s primary season, which generally means Democratic candidates for President are trying to see who can swing farthest Left. This is especially true when it comes to punishing the oil and gas industry that supplies most of the country’s energy.
The latest test of party purity involves promises to ban fracking if elected. Senator Elizabeth Warren is but one of many to make such a promise, tweeting:
Senator Warren promises to ban fracking.
Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Kamala Harris have both made similar promises. But these are simply not realistic promises.
What Fracking Did For America
The resurgence of U.S. oil and gas production over the past dozen years is directly attributable to fracking. While fracking has been going on in the U.S. since the late 1940s, it wasn’t until just after the turn of the century that it began to be increasingly used in conjunction with horizontal drilling. That marriage of technologies ushered in the fracking boom and resulted in a renaissance of oil and gas production.
The resurgence of natural gas production followed years of decline and corresponding natural gas price spikes. But as production rose, natural gas prices collapsed. This price collapse was a major factor for utilities switching from coal to natural gas, which in turn resulted in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions declining by more than any other nation. The U.S. became the top natural gas producer in the world, and began to export liquefied natural gas (LNG).
With respect to oil, in 2005 net imports of oil and finished products like gasoline had reached 13 million barrels per day (BPD). But fracking sent U.S. oil production soaring, and that has been the single biggest factor in seeing these net imports drop to less than 1 million BPD.
Consequences of a Ban
How do proponents of a ban envision that it would work? They foresee modest and controlled production declines, offset by other policies that would reduce oil demand. In other words, they don’t believe a ban would lead to a steady increase in oil imports.
However, if we look to California, a different picture emerges. California’s main supplies of oil 20 years ago were its own production and Alaskan production. Neither California nor Alaska engage in fracking to any appreciable extent. Both states have missed out on the fracking-enabled shale oil boom. Instead, oil production in Alaska and California has steadily declined.
Meanwhile, even though California has the nation’s most aggressive policies to reduce oil demand, that demand hasn’t going down appreciably. As a result, California’s dependence on foreign oil has skyrocketed as its two main sources of domestic production have declined.
California’s dependence on foreign oil continues to grow.
This is instructive, because it is an actual case study of “no fracking” over time. Before the fracking boom, the entire country was becoming increasingly dependent on foreign oil. But even though overall U.S. oil imports have plummeted as U.S. shale oil production has grown, California’s foreign oil dependence continues to climb steadily higher.
According to data from Baker Hughes, nearly 90% of all new oil and gas wells today are horizontal, fracked wells. An immediate ban on fracking — as these candidates have proposed — would result in an immediate decline in U.S. oil and gas production.
Net oil imports, which have been trending down for years, would immediately reverse direction. U.S. dependence on foreign oil would again begin to grow. We don’t have to fantasize about what might happen if we simultaneously adopt aggressive policies to curb demand. We just need to look at the actual results in California.
Natural gas exports would also morph back into natural gas imports. Because global natural gas demand is growing, countries with LNG needs would in many cases turn to countries with fewer environmental protections than the U.S. You may rightfully be concerned about some methane leakage from U.S. wells, but many countries have a fraction of the environmental controls we have in the U.S.
Conclusion: Pandering or Naivety
These are some of the things that would happen if fracking was immediately banned. Those calling for an immediate ban are either pandering, or they are naive. In reality, an immediate ban wouldn’t happen, because a President would never get the political support to enact such a national ban. Local bans will sometimes win support, but there will never be a nationwide ban.
These candidates probably know this — and some may even be aware of the consequences — in which case they are simply pandering to voters. But in the process, they risk losing moderate voters who may have otherwise voted for them.
By Robert Rapier
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