Pence misleads on Biden-Harris fracking stance, and debate viewers ask, ‘What is fracking, again?’

Original post by Rachel Koning Beals of Market Watch 

The Biden-Harris campaign has been treading carefully around the controversial process of fracking because of the jobs it provides in key swing states such as Pennsylvania.

Such care has earned the ticket criticism at times for lack of clarity, including in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial.

Google search results from Wednesday’s vice-presidential debate also reflected confusion and curiosity from viewers, who queried on “fracking” and sought a refresher on the “Green New Deal,” which has effectively become shorthand for any climate-change proposal by Democrats.

Vice President Mike Pence ventured to clear up his opponents’ position on fracking and climate change during Wednesday’s head-to-head for the presidential running mates. But his take, and an even harsher rehash by President Trump early Thursday, don’t pass fact-check muster.

“This monster, she says no, no there won’t be fracking,” Trump said early Thursday of Harris when calling in to Fox Business a day after Pence claimed from the debate stage that his opponents would ban the drilling practice that has helped push the U.S. toward a more dominate position against global energy heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Russia but has proven unstable at times.

“They want to bury our economy under a $2 trillion Green New Deal. [They] want to abolish fossil fuels, and ban fracking, which would cost hundreds of thousands of American jobs all across the heartland,” Pence said in answering a debate question not on climate change but on the COVID-19 economic recovery.

“I will repeat, and the American people know, that Joe Biden will not ban fracking,” Harris answered Wednesday. “That is a fact.”

Biden hasn’t proposed banning fracking overall, rather new exploratory fracking on protected land, but his campaign has had to clarify that position. The bulk of fracking, which uses high-pressure water to expel deep underground oil and creates the byproduct natural gas, takes place on private land. Michigan, Ohio and the Dakotas also have a stake in the fracking debate.

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Biden has not pushed abolishing fossil fuels in the near term but has promoted a cleaner U.S. energy basket that will push the nation toward net-zero emissions from power plants by 2035

Biden has at times latched on to the “Green New Deal” buzzphrase, while also calling out his own policy differences from the aspirational framework that stalled in a divided Congress. One key difference is Biden’s willingness to keep some drilling in the mix alongside solar, wind and other energy generation.

Pence, critics said, did not fully answer the question later as to whether he thought climate change presented an existential threat requiring emergency action, reviving long-running criticism from some that the administration tacks toward climate-change “denial.” That’s despite the science around the topic and the position of some key Republican lawmakers and mostly younger conservative voters who want a diverse energy mix that doesn’t favor fossil fuels over other options.

One group, the right-leaning Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, said Pence’s willingness to address climate change is significant and that the country needs to move with reachable actions.

“Republicans are asked time and time again whether they believe in some aspect of climate science in order to try and paint them as out of touch with the general public. Vice President Pence did not take the bait. He spoke plainly, eloquently and honestly about American leadership in clean air, clean water, lowering emissions, improving our national parks and bringing back American power in global energy markets,” said Heather Reams, executive director at CRES. “He talked about American innovation, fracking and natural gas as key enablers for emissions reduction, and driving our leadership in climate-change mitigation. “

“70% of Americans believe we should be part of the Paris Climate Agreement. So Pence can go on trash talking it. … [I]t’s only going hurt them with voters,” tweeted Jamie Henn

Harris, meanwhile, her critics said, still wasn’t direct enough in talking about the Green New Deal, drawn up in 2019 by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward Markey but never formally proposed as legislation. Some Pennsylvania voters interviewed Thursday morning by MSNBC said they feel Harris hasn’t been clear on fracking previously. Harris, before joining the Biden team, was a congressional sponsor of early versions of the Green New Deal from her party’s progressive arm.

“Fracking is bad, actually,” tweeted Ocasio-Cortez, the New York Democrat, on Wednesday night, as Harris made her counter to Pence.

The topic, a big piece of sweeping environmental policy, has found traction as the Nov. 3 election nears. The search phrase “What is fracking?” spiked by 4,150% in the first hour of the debate Wednesday, Google data showed. And U.S. search interest for the topic “Green New Deal” spiked 5,000%.

Fracking, also called hydraulic fracturing, has contributed to historically plunging natural-gas prices that save on energy costs for U.S. homes and businesses. But extraction uses large amounts of water, which must be transported to the site. Some evidence points to increased earth tremors, while potentially carcinogenic chemicals may escape during drilling and contaminate groundwater. Methane can also leak at the capture site.

Other climate issues continue to be informally debated, often outside of science and policy proposals. Some Republicans have also claimed that their rivals would ban emitters cows and planes, an unfounded claim. Republicans say Democrats are generally too pessimistic, which slows action on energy policy. The pressure is on both parties to lead as economic rival China has become more aggressive in its climate-change pledges, as have many major corporations, including Walmart WMT, -1.56%, and investing giants like BlackRock BLK, +0.13%, in recent weeks and months.

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