One of the most significant tests for the Democratic platform committee is whether it will have the courage or political will to adopt a ban on natural gas fracking.
The current position of the Democratic Party is that natural gas is a “bridge fuel” for reducing carbon emissions, which contribute to climate change. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has embraced natural gas as a “bridge fuel.” President Barack Obama championed natural gas as a “bridge fuel” during his 2014 State of the Union speech.
On June 17, Josh Fox, who directed “Gasland” and “Gasland 2,” testified before the Democratic platform committee, which convened in Phoenix. (Peculiarly, the platform committee chair, Rep. Elijah Cummings, introduced Fox without mentioning “Gasland,” which is why Fox is known and why he was giving testimony in the first place.)
Fox informed the committee, “What is most disturbing to me is the language of the Democratic Party that has been taken directly from the natural gas industry, that of the fracked gas bridge fuel.”
“A bridge fuel policy means we’re going to switch a huge section of our electricity generation sector to fracked natural gas,” Fox contended. He also said it means there will be 300 fracked gas power plants around the United States, with thousands of miles of pipeline and “probably 2 million new fracking wells.”
“These power plants are financed like most people’s houses for 30 or 40 years. That’s a regime change in American energy to fracking,” Fox declared. “That would be an utter disaster for the climate and would surely push us beyond the stated goals of the Democratic Party.”
Fox noted methane is “86 times more powerful as a heat-trapped gas as carbon dioxide.” Shale gas would actually be worse for the climate.
“If we push 300 new shale gas power plants, pipelines, and other fracking infrastructure, which citizens right now are fighting across the country, it will be catastrophic for the climate and for the Democratic Party. Fracked gas is not a bridge. It is a gang plank to a global warming calamity.”
None of the members of the committee pushed back against Fox. Their questions just did not seem to match the urgency of Fox’s message. Nor did any of the questions asked of Fox confront the issue of Democrats adopting the industry’s own language to promote greater reliance on natural gas in the country’s energy policy.
Paul Booth, executive assistant to the president of AFSCME, who was appointed to the committee by Clinton, asked a question about whether banning fracking would give the oil industry a void, which it could fill. It missed the point of what Fox had just said in his testimony, however, Fox said we have to phase out fossil fuels and “keep those fuels in the ground.”
Fox was asked by Warren Gunnels, the policy director for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, if there is any way to regulate fracking so it is safe. Unequivocally, Fox responded, “That’s an impossible task.” The gas industry’s own science indicates its wells will leak, and there is no way to protect underground sources of water.
“We would be repairing a system that we need to phase out any way, from the standpoint of the climate,” Fox added.
Fox also pointed out that the problem with clean power plant strategies currently is that coal is being traded for gas. So, the country needs to retire both coal and natural gas and replace those energy sources with renewable energy.
The 2012 Democratic Platform took the following pro-fracking position:
Harnessing our natural gas resources needs to be done in a safe and responsible manner, which is why the Obama administration has proposed a number of safeguards to protect against water contamination and air pollution. We will continue to advocate for the use of this clean fossil fuel, while ensuring that public and environmental health and workers’ safety are protected. We support more infrastructure investment to speed the transition to cleaner fuels in the transportation sector. And we are expediting the approval process to build out critical oil and gas lines essential to transporting our energy for consumers.
But, as Gunnels mentioned when questioning Fox, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation concluded, “No amount of regulation, none, can safely guard against the dangers fracking pose to our land—water, air, natural resources, and public health.” (New York officially banned fracking on June 29, 2015.)
Alex Emmons, a journalist for The Intercept, reported in March that Clinton held a $575-per-head fundraising lunch hosted by Alisa Wood, who is a partner at the international private equity firm, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR). KKR has heavily invested in fracking.
Clinton worked as secretary of state to sell fracking to many parts of the world. She pushed fracking in Bulgaria and Romania in 2012, which specifically benefited Chevron. The Global Shale Gas Initiative was developed in April 2010 to serve the corporate interests of Chevron, Exxon Mobil, and ConocoPhillips.
“I know that in some places [it] is controversial,” Clinton said, at a gathering of foreign ministers in 2010, “but natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel available for power generation today.”