What Would Happen If Joe or Bernie Could Ban Fracking in Pennsylvania?

At last Sunday night’s Democratic debate, where a septuagenarian in the early stages of dementia verbally sparred with a septuagenarian with a serious heart condition to see who would be the one to take on a septuagenarian with obesity issues for the U.S. presidency, a significant amount of time was spent discussing hydraulic fracturing, colloquially known as “fracking.”

More specifically, a significant amount of time was spent by former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders disparaging a process that has helped save American families and businesses hundreds of billions of dollars over the past decade.

Sanders called it “insane” that America continues to have fracking and declared he would stop it “as soon as we possibly can.”

Biden, trying to appear more moderate, said he would oppose “new” fracking wells, and then clarified afterward through a campaign minion that he was talking about just the fracking that takes place on federal land. Previously, however, he has talked about how he will “end fossil fuels.”

Granted, as president, neither of the two would have any constitutional authority whatsoever to ban fracking on private- and state-owned land. Unilaterally banning fracking entirely across the United States is nothing more than one of Bernie’s fever dreams, like Medicare for All and the liquidation of the kulaks as a class.

Yet the open hostility of both candidates to oil and natural gas development leads us to wonder what would happen if a hypothetical ban on fracking occurred. What, exactly, would that mean for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to take just one example?

Quite simply, it would mean economic devastation that would make this pending coronavirus recession look like our halcyon days. The streets will flow with the blood of the nonbelievers and the air will be filled by the cries of the tormented and the lamentations of the anguished. There will be the rending of garments and the gnashing of teeth, and the living will envy the dead.

Well, it wouldn’t be quite that bad—but it would still be really, really bad.

According to a November 2019 report from the Global Energy Institute, Pennsylvania would experience the cumulative loss of 609,000 jobs by 2025 thanks to higher residential and business energy costs and upstream production losses, as well as $261 billion in lost GDP, and a $23.4 billion loss in state and local tax revenues. (Keep in mind, this tax revenue goes to pay for education, infrastructure spending, healthcare, public safety, and so on.)

Over that same period, Pennsylvania households would experience a $114 billion loss of income and Pennsylvanians would suffer a per capita cost-of-living increase of $4,654. These losses would begin taking effect immediately. In 2021 alone, the study estimates 125,000 job losses, $19 billion in lost GDP, $1.6 billion in lost state and local tax revenue, and an $8 billion loss in household income.

The study’s job loss numbers are reinforced by a February report modeled out by the consulting firm OnLocation on behalf of the American Petroleum Institute, which found the Keystone State would experience more than 550,000 job losses in 2022 alone.

The development of the Marcellus and Utica shale plays in Pennsylvania has turned the commonwealth into the second-largest producer of natural gas in the United States. Moreover, this massive increase in domestic shale development, led by fracking, has caused natural gas prices to plummet in the Keystone State, saving Pennsylvania residents and businesses more than $30.5 billion from 2006 to 2016, according to one estimate, or $43 billion from 2008 to 2018, according to another.

Fracking activity also delivers $1,300 to $1,900 in annual benefits to local households, according to researchers at the University of Chicago, Princeton University, and MIT. Get rid of fracking and these consumer benefits would vanish into thin air practically overnight.

When the Democratic presidential candidates talk about taking action to “end fossil fuels” they are talking about nothing else but the bringing forth of economic destruction the likes of which most people have never even fathomed could be possible.

With the knowledge that intermittent, expensive, land-intensive “renewable” sources such as wind and solar will most likely never be able to step into the breach and replace oil and natural gas, and with the knowledge that the fracking process itself is a safe one, this kind of talk is an order of magnitudes beyond irresponsible.

Pennsylvanians concerned about the long-term economic health of their commonwealth, their communities, and their families should think twice before casting a vote for either man.

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About Tim Benson

Tim Benson (tbenson@heartland.org) is a policy analyst with The Heartland Institute, a non-partisan, free-market think tank headquartered in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

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