Our view: Now is no time to ban US fracking

Herald pull quote, 3/20/2020

Bernie Sanders, in the last gasps of what polls show will be the final weeks of his final presidential campaign, seeks a total ban on fracking – the technological breakthrough that has spurred U.S. oil production.

Most North Dakotans have at least a basic understanding of the process, which sees drillers use a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals pumped into the earth to allow oil and gas to come to the surface. It allows for both vertical and horizontal drilling.

Here in North Dakota, it’s a common practice in the Bakken oil formation. It’s a lucrative one, too.

Billions of barrels of oil in the Bakken could possibly be recovered via fracking. North Dakota now is the No. 2 oil-producing state in the nation, behind only Texas, and the United States last year produced more oil than any other country.

It all adds up to dollars in North Dakota, and any efforts to ban fracking should be looked at cautiously. Yet Sanders is adamant.


“I’m talking about stopping fracking as soon as we possibly can,” Sanders said during Sunday’s debate with fellow Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

For his part, Biden doesn’t call for an outright ban on fracking, but he does seek a ban on new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters. Most fracking, however, is done on private land.

Republicans worry he will tend toward a fracking cutback; Democrats say he isn’t going far enough.

Sanders is much more direct, and if elected – which seems an unlikely event – he will push for the complete end to fracking.

It means $2.50-per-gallon gas will be history. It means thousands of jobs lost. It means a sudden and stark slowing of North Dakota’s economy. It means the state’s rainy-day piggybank account – the $6 billion Legacy Fund – will cease its rapid growth. It means higher rates for electricity, since much of the nation’s electrical output is powered by natural gas.

And all of this during a time of economic slowdown caused by coronavirus? And as experts predict a recession, beginning in the second quarter of 2020? And amid what could be a sharp rise in unemployment?

No, Sen. Sanders, now most definitely is not the time for a full ban on American fracking. The debate on climate change – and we do believe in climate change – must continue, but immediate and radical changes aren’t the answer. Especially now.

It’s a bit like flying an airplane. Quick movements should be avoided out of fear of catastrophic reactions. Instead, a better method is to use slight course corrections that will result in less immediate impact but eventually result in a safer economic landing.


It is just a capitalistic fact: America runs on, and relies upon, crude oil.

Eventually, it’s inevitable that oil will be phased out as alternatives emerge. Until then, slight movements are best – not radical course corrections.

Sanders’ proposal to immediately ban fracking is shortsighted and shows that the senator is, during this time of economic instability, tone deaf to the United States’ economic situation.

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