The 2020 election proved nationally what we’ve known in the West about hydraulic fracturing: whenever it’s on the ballot there’s strong support in oil and natural gas country.
Over several election cycles we’ve seen fracking on local ballots either directly through initiatives (such as the failed Proposition 112 in Colorado) or indirectly through pro-oil and natural gas candidates. Each time fracking received strong support. The 2020 election was the first test nationally of that trend.
Vice President Joe Biden said he’d love to ban fracking nationwide in the primary but admitted it’s not possible. Instead he proposed a ban only on federal public lands. It was a calculated move because only about 10 percent of our nation’s oil and natural gas come from public lands. Plus, 95 percent of wells in the country are fracked so a nationwide ban would have been politically costly in must-win Pennsylvania.
But 12 days before the election Biden’s ploy fell apart. In the final debate he announced he’d transition away from oil and natural gas by 2035. Just 15 years from now. The moment defined the debate and exposed how fast oil and natural gas jobs could disappear.
After several days of counting, Biden has been declared the winner. Final votes are being still being counted, and in some areas recounted. But we can now look at the results and see that the regions of the country where oil and natural gas is produced support for fracking was strong.
In Pennsylvania, Biden has been declared the winner. Yet his 0.6 percent margin of victory shows voters were alarmed by his opposition to oil and natural gas and were skeptical of his promise to only target public lands. So was the media. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last month endorsed Pres. Trump for re-election citing Biden’s position on fracking. The paper hadn’t endorsed a Republican presidential candidate in nearly 50 years.
In Texas, Democrats sought to capture the 28 Electoral College votes and unseat incumbent Sen. John Cornyn. Forty-one percent of the oil and nearly a quarter of the natural gas produced in our country comes from the Lone Star state. A ban on fracking would result in 1.1 million lost jobs in Texas alone. Voters saw Biden’s platform as a threat to their state and picked Donald Trump and Sen. Cornyn once again.
In Montana, plans to flip a Senate seat similarly failed. The Treasure State ranks seventh in oil production on public lands, so Biden’s plan targeting them was a liability. Democrats backed Gov. Steve Bullock to run against Republican Sen. Steve Daines. He’d already won statewide and stood apart from Biden by opposing bans on fracking nationwide and on public lands. However, it appears voters were uncertain that as a Senator Bullock could resist pressure from a President Biden and the Keep-It-in-the-Ground lobby supporting his campaign. Daines won after a competitive campaign.
Outside of the swing states there are a few races where fracking supporters prevailed in increasingly blue states.
In Colorado, John Hickenlooper’s support for fracking was hardly an impediment in the Senate race. In the Democratic primary, he beat the former Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff. As governor, Hickenlooper blocked an anti-oil and natural gas ballot measure and famously drank fracking fluid. Romanoff ran on banning fracking and passing the Green New Deal. Voters and environmental groups ultimately saw the former governor as politically more viable in the campaign to unseat Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. They were right.
On Colorado’s West Slope, fracking supporter Lauren Boebert handily defeated Diane Mitsch Bush in a district that has a history of being a toss-up. Democrats saw an opening to flip a House seat once Boebert unexpectedly beat Rep. Scott Tipton in the Republican primary. Bush supported increasing restrictions for development on public lands. It proved costly since the region is dominated by public lands and is a major producer of natural gas.
In New Mexico, Yvette Herrell easily defeated freshman Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small. Herrell openly supported expanding oil and natural gas development and reducing overreaching regulations. During her first term in Congress, Small went against the grain to support oil and natural gas and very publicly opposed a nationwide fracking ban. However, Biden’s threats to ban fracking on public lands that dominate the Permian Basin dragged her down. Small won two years ago by 5,000 votes but lost this week by 20,000.
The national debate about fracking in the 2020 election was perhaps inevitable after the issue was disputed locally across the country in recent years. Those contests established the trend of support where development actually takes place. We now see from 2020 the pattern is cemented. Where people benefit from fracking they show up to the polls to support it.