WASHINGTON — Fracking has emerged as a hot button issue of the 2020 election, with President Donald Trump claiming his political rival will cripple the economy in politically important states such as Pennsylvania by putting an end to the well extraction technique, despite Joe Biden's assertions to the contrary.
There's good reason it's getting so much attention: Hydraulic fracturing is used to coax oil and gas out of roughly 95% of U.S. wells, according to government data.
While Biden has called for prohibiting new oil and gas projects on federal land, the candidate has made it clear he does not support a widespread ban on fracking — which involves pumping water, sand and chemicals underground to free oil and gas from dense rock formations.
Even if Biden wanted to, he couldn't unilaterally ban fracking on private lands. Under a 2005 law, the Environmental Protection Agency has almost no regulatory power over fracking. Changing that would require an act of Congress.
Q. Where could Biden stop fracking?
A. There are several ways Biden could halt fracking on federal lands using executive power. He could ban new oil and gas leases, halt new permits, or seek a specific regulatory ban on fracking, all of which Biden has telegraphed at one point or another on the campaign trail.
"It would be foolish to assume Biden would not carry out his promise," said Kevin Book, managing director of research firm ClearView Energy Partners. "He has all the power in the world."
That doesn't mean it will be easy. A regulation banning fracking on federal land would have to go through a process that would likely be challenged in court as a violation of federal law that encourages oil and gas development. Even an Obama-era Interior Department rule that merely set standards for fracking on federal lands — while still allowing the activity — was tossed out.
Instead, it's more likely Biden would go through the "side door" that could include a combination of rewriting drilling and land management plans and the use of emergency authority to achieve a cessation on leasing and permitting, Book said.