At the Democratic debate held in Michigan on March 6, candidates Clinton and Sanders finally sparred over energy policy. An audience member questioned the candidates about the environmental effects of fracking and asked each candidate to state whether or not they supported continued fracking in the United States.
Secretary Clinton answered first, and explained that she would not support fracking in localities where the communities oppose it, when it releases methane or causes contamination, and when companies have not made public the types of chemicals used in the process. “By the time we get through all of my conditions,” she continued, “I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place.” In other words, fracking should die a slow death by regulation.
Senator Sanders responded that he does not support fracking, under any circumstances.
Republican candidates have not been asked to directly discuss fracking’s environmental consequences. All of the remaining four support fracking and have talked about the importance of fracking to the American economy and to America’s future energy supplies. Of all the candidates, only Governor Kasich has supported raising taxes on fracking companies, which he seeks to do in his state of Ohio. Both Senator Cruz and Donald Trump support ending tax breaks that allow oil companies to recover some of the upfront costs they face in developing oil and gas resources.
All of these questions have become hopelessly outdated over the past year as the price of oil has plummeted and tens of thousands of American workers have been laid off from energy jobs. Republican candidates should not be excused when they simply hold up the fracking industry as the source of a newfound energy security. Democrat candidates should not be excused when they ignore economic benefits of energy innovation. The media needs to ask candidates about current and immediately relevant issues in energy production, such as financial, diplomatic, and environmental implications of the current oil glut. For example, candidates should be asked about the shale industry layoffs and cost-cutting; our relationships with other oil producers and consumers; or increased seismic activity in Oklahoma that may be linked to fracking.
If the markets respond to every small price gyration almost immediately and the media reports on every incremental change in the price of oil, why are candidates running for office not expected to address current energy challenges? The next President of the United States will certainly have to.