Bernie vs. Hillary: Who Will Stop the Fracking?
March 10, 2016
Fracking, otherwise known as hydraulic fracturing, the process of drilling down through shale rock to extract oil or natural gas, it's an issue dividing the policies of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. At the recent Democratic presidential debate in Flint, Michigan, Clinton seemed to be a bit long-winded on the issue compared to Bernie Sanders. Let's have a look.
Watch: The Real News Network's interview with Steve Horn. Full transcript below.
HILLARY CLINTON: You know, I don't support it when any locality or any state is against it, number one. I don't support it when the release of methane or contamination of water is present. I don't support it, number three, unless we can require that anybody who fracks has to tell us exactly what chemicals they are using.
BERNIE SANDERS: My answer is a lot shorter. No, I do not support fracking.
PERIES: Some attribute Sanders' victory in Michigan on Tuesday, the state that is besieged by poisonous water in Flint, to that comment. And one may wonder how much the fracking issue had been contributing to people when they went to the polling station, as fracking is known to pollute groundwater and contribute to contaminated drinking water. A sensitive issue.With us to discuss the issue is Steve Horn. Steve is research fellow for DeSmog Blog, and a freelance investigative journalist whose work is featured in the Guardian, the Nation, and Truthout. Good to have you with us again, Steve.
STEVE HORN: Good to be on again. Thanks for having me.
PERIES: So, Steve, what do you make of Secretary Clinton's response to the question of fracking? And do you think it had something to do with her losing in Michigan, and Bernie Sanders winning?
HORN: Yeah. You know, first of all, fracking is an issue that has divided the state of Michigan. There hasn't really been commercial scale fracking in the state. I think an important context is that there's been a grassroots battle against fracking that's been ongoing for the past several years, including a ballot initiative that got tens of thousands of signatures to ban fracking in the state that was led by a grassroots group there. So fracking is definitely an issue that's on the mind of the people of Michigan. Of course, it's hard to go ahead and then say that's one of the contributing factors to the reason why Sanders ended up winning, but of course that is an issue that has rallied the grassroots, so of course it's something that a lot of people, tens of thousands of people in the state care about, and many of them probably voters who went out and [inaud.] a vote for Sanders. So that's first of all. Second of all is Clinton's equivocating on the issue in her answer to the question. Of course, a lot of this has to do, you know, the backdrop is that she has taken $4.5 million from the fossil fuel industry as of the latest data that came out that was released by Greenpeace USA, that is Super PAC money, and her campaign committee money, versus campaign committee money only from Bernie Sanders, he took $35,000. That could mean, most likely just means some money from employees of companies, because he does not have a Super PAC. So of course, that is the broader context.
The nuances of her answer is that--what is more telling is what she--there's telling things in what she said. There's also telling things in what she did not say. What she said is her list of these three things that need to happen for her to support fracking. She basically went ahead and said if these things did not happen, you know, these things most likely will not happen, so she's not very supportive of fracking, of course. One of them, it was the issue of chemical transparency. I think it's probably going to be the most interesting going forward. The industry has something called frack focus, which the Obama administration has been supportive of, that was an initiative that was supposedly more transparent than what existed before out of the [inaud.] loophole. Only that, I think the caveat being that it actually hasn't been any more transparent. It's mostly been a PR greenwashing exercise by the industry. So that's been the approach by states across the nation and the federal government. Hillary Clinton did not get into the details of what she means, by what she supports by chemical transparency. But under her State Department, of course, they were spreading fracking across the world under the global shale gas initiative. That's the context of where she was on this issue, you know, obviously up in the air on where she goes from here.
But also telling in her answer was how she focused only on the methane issue as one of the, you know, she says that there's methane leakage, she will not be supportive of fracking. That's almost impossible. There's been so many studies that show just huge amounts of methane spewing into the atmosphere across the supply chain of oil and gas for fracking and shale gas. But I think on top of that is the emerging issue of not only methane as a greenhouse gas, but the issue of carbon dioxide. There's a study that came out from the Environmental Integrity Project just released last week. That report basically came out and said, look, if you look at the entirety, look at the grave portion of, the cradle-to-grave life cycle of the petrochemical industry that's emerged with fracking, look at things like fertilizer plants, chemical plants, liquified natural gas facilities. All the stuff that comes after the fracking, you calculate the carbon dioxide numbers, you're looking at in the past five years 39--the equivalent of 39 coal-fired power plants being built, proposed, or already being built for the petrochemical industry. And you look at even 2015 alone it was proposed or [inaud.] built because things that were permitted. We're looking at 19 more coal-fired power plants' equivalent of that in carbon dioxide. So we're looking at methane being a greenhouse gas that's more potent than carbon dioxide in its first 20 years in the atmosphere. Then you look at carbon dioxide alone, we're looking at dozens of coal-fired power plants. Because of the, you know, the supply chain that has been opened up due to fracking.
So it's not just--Hillary Clinton's answer only focused on the fracking portion of it and not the entire supply chain. I think that Bernie Sanders' answer was much more simple, it was no, I do not support fracking. And with that comes, of course, without that fracking we cannot have this huge, emerging supply chain that's been opened up due to fracking.
PERIES: Steve, Clinton seems to be walking a very tight rope here, particularly given that she has accepted money from the oil and gas lobby and Super PACs contributing to her campaign. Yet she did talk about wanting to regulate everything related to fracking. What do you think she meant by that, and what is the current regulations in place that, from an administration that she's been a part of?
HORN: Yeah, that's a, you know, that's an interesting way to look at it. You know, of course all her answers were very vague, and what she says she supports. Right now it's currently, quote-unquote, Â“regulatedÂ”. That means that the federal government hardly does anything except for under the Obama administration there's been proposals for regulating methane, public lands under the Bureau of Land Management, and that's pretty much it in terms of the Obama administration. You look at what the status quo has been since the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and before, and that is giving all authority to the states. And of course, that's crucial. Because the states are all part of this broader state regulators, who are supposed, you know, supposed to be policing the oil and gas industry. They are all members of this really powerful body that's been in place in the United States since 1935. It's called the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, which was a compact signed between the states and Congress that's congressionally authorized. And so--but essentially it is a body of regulators that are in the pocket of the oil and gas industry. IOGCC, as it's called in shorthand, takes lots of money from the oil and gas industry, and that compact itself was funded from drilling operations in the states. So it's basically an organ of the oil and gas industry in terms of how it works. We will be doing a lot more reporting on this body. But that is the status quo right now. And then we call that regulation [to the] states. And of course as it plays out, it means very little regulation. Underfunded state, local regulations and lots of corruption in the state level. It remains to be seen if Clinton will challenge that. But that is something that has been in place in the United States [I would] say now for 80 years. [Crosstalk]
PERIES: Now, Clinton also talked about how fracking shouldn't take place in communities that don't want it. Now, both the Real News and DeSmog Blog has covered cases where this is not the case, and communities clearly don't want it yet it still exists. Tell us about some of those examples.
HORN: Yeah. Well, that's a two-pronged thing. Because one, there are lots of communities that don't want fracking, but it really depends on what the mechanism is for stopping it. Right now there is an onslaught by the industry to ban local bans. We saw that in Denton, Texas. We see these attacks ongoing right now in Colorado. She did not say I will go ahead and tell the industry they cannot ban local bans. So I don't know how much she would stick her neck out on the issue. I think that basically what she's saying is if that authority is in place she will be supportive. She's not going to exactly take the industry position. But she also did not say she will challenge the industry in doing this. Of course, this has been spearheaded, there are things like it not only on fracking but corporate issues that concern corporate America in general through using the American Legislative Exchange Council as a vehicle on other issues, too. So this is, this whole ban of local bans has become a trend. And it really, the details are very vague in terms of Clinton, if she would challenge that, if she would try to introduce legislation that would not allow industries to put forward legislation like this. Again, like everything else, her proposals are purposely very vague.