I don’t think anyone anticipated the attention on fracking during the presidential election. I certainly didn’t.
I remember first covering fracking—which involves injecting water, sand, and chemicals into rock at high pressure to release oil and gas to extract—back in 2014 at my college paper when I was living in California. It’s been fascinating to see the discourse evolve on the issue. More than anything, it’s been disappointing to see elected officials like President-elect Joe Biden continue to support the practice—despite science showing its health and environmental risks.
So long as fracking continues, so will the reign of oil and gas.
Welcome to The Frontline, where we’re all about banning fracking. I’m Yessenia Funes, climate editor of Atmos. We’re continuing to look at what comes next after the victory of Biden to the White House. He says he won’t ban fracking, but that won’t stop climate advocates from fighting for a ban—be it on the federal or more local level.
States like New York, Maryland, and Vermont have already banned fracking. Their reasonings were simple: This process threatens waterways, ecosystems, and people’s health. Plus, it simply cannot exist in a world where we’re serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Many of these states do, however, still import oil and gas extracted by fracking. As long as the process remains legal at a national level, frack-friendly states will keep the practice alive—and there will be demand. Transitioning off oil and gas drilling in all forms is paramount to making the U.S. a clean energy powerhouse in time to avoid further climate catastrophe.
“Biden said he didn’t want to ban fracking, but we know that he has to.”
Putting an end to fracking is also central to preventing the deaths of nearby community members—who are all too often Black and brown. Research has shown that exposure to air pollutants released during this process may cause lower birth weights in newborns, as well as increased asthma attacks. These operations can also bring in an outside workforce that’s largely male, which has been linked to a rise in local crime and violence. Indigenous groups have been campaigning around this assault on their land.
Fracking is not the future.
“Biden said he didn’t want to ban fracking, but we know that he has to,” says Thomas Meyer, an organizing manager at Food and Water Watch, which has been organizing around a fracking ban for about a decade. “If you’re serious about confronting the climate crisis, you gotta take on fracking and the fossil fuel industry.”
Fracking produces methane, a greenhouse gas that can slip out in leaks and flares. A 2018 study in Science, which I covered, found that the industry was producing 13 million metric tons of methane every year—60 percent higher than previous estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency. Methane is especially destructive because it carries a higher warming potential than its infamous partner carbon dioxide.
The New York Times photographed what these methane leaks can look like at oil and gas facilities. The result is breathtakingly disgusting. As the Times points out, President Donald Trump has been trying to repeal methane regulations, which would make the fracking process that much more dangerous. Biden, on the other hand, has promised to enact more stringent methane regulations, but that doesn’t include banning fracking outright.
Organizers aren’t giving up just because Biden isn’t immediately about it. If Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were bold enough to introduce the first-ever bill to ban fracking under Trump, advocates are going to push for a hell of a lot more under Biden. Already, Food and Water Watch is circulating a letter to elected officials across the U.S. asking folks to sign on in support of a nationwide fracking ban by 2025.
The letter text reads:
We urge the President and Members of Congress to take the following actions:
-Stop new permits for fracking on federal lands, as well as federal permits for fracking or fracking infrastructure to extract, refine, transport, or burn natural gas or oil.
-End federal subsidies for the fracking industry and other fossil fuel companies.
-Revoke permits for current oil & gas wells within 2,500 ft of homes, schools, or other inhabited structures.
-Work with Indigenous Peoples, workers, unions, and frontline community organizations to immediately invest in a just transition and comprehensive economic plan for communities and workers impacted by the fracking industry.
-Ban the practice of fracking nationwide, effective no later than 2025.
Until grassroots organizers can secure all of this, they’ll continue to lay on the pressure at the local level, too. In Colorado, groups are exploring legal options to create local fracking bans. In Pennsylvania, the focus is on zoning ordinances to stop drilling in certain parts of the state. In California, the work has involved electing officials at the city and county level who will promise to better regulate and eventually phase out this dangerous practice.
Those on the frontlines of oil and gas—be it local communities or workers—deserve a nationwide fracking ban that centers health, safety, and justice. The current economic crisis has already rocked the industry, but laying off workers and abandoning wells isn’t the solution the people deserve. They deserve a just transition that will usher in a new era of clean air, clean energy, and damn good jobs. The economy might repair itself, but the same may not be true for the planet.