One of the defining distinctions between Joe Biden and Donald Trump’s campaign platforms was Biden’s faith in science. On Feb. 21, President Biden tweeted, “When I said I would listen to the scientists as president, I meant it.” By rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and encouraging Americans to take the COVID-19 vaccine, Biden has remained partially consistent with his statement, but in regards to other issues, such as fracking, Biden remains unconcerned.

What is fracking, and why is it bad?

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a mining technique used to obtain oil and natural gas from the Earth. Fracking is basically high-powered drilling and injecting a chemical-water mixture into the ground. The pressure results in the rock releasing the gas, but the excessive use of water and toxic chemicals in fracking is terrible for the environment and communities near fracking sites.

According to the Wilderness Society, a non-profit land conservation organization, the chemicals used in fracking, such as “cancer-causing chemicals like benzene and toluene, are exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.” If the structural integrity of the oil and gas wells is damaged, these chemicals, along with natural gas and oil, can leak into groundwater and contaminate it. Consuming contaminated water can result in short-term and long-term health defects in the nervous, digestive, and reproductive systems. On top of this, “the federal government doesn’t require that companies disclose what is in the fracking fluid,” the Wilderness Society says. Though some states require corporations to disclose this information, many are able to find loopholes around these regulations so that they don’t have to, such as ExxonMobil.

There are also few federal regulations for how corporations must dispose of fracking waste, which allows them to do so in the cheapest way possible, regardless of environmental impact. According to The New York Times, in 2011, wastewater contaminated with radium and other carcinogens was dumped upstream from the intake pipe of a drinking water plant in Pennsylvania. In addition to the impact of contaminated drinking water for humans, this is also disastrous for animals and wildlife in nearby natural habitats.

Even if fracking is done “safely,” the process requires millions of gallons of water, which can be especially devastating in more areas with arid climates. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated that in 2010, 70 to 140 billion gallons of water were used to fracture just 35,000 wells in the United States, more than was used by the city of Denver, Colorado in the same time period.

Also of note is the prevalence of fracking in Texas, a drought-prone state. This has had detrimental effects on Texas residents as well as the agricultural and livestock industries.

What has Biden said about fracking in the past?

On May 22, 2020, in an interview on CNBC, Biden stated, “I would not stop fracking. I’d gradually move away from fracking. I would just not do more fracking on federal lands.” This was in reference to his campaign’s policy to ban new permits for federal and offshore land but leave already existing fracking sites alone.

Why won’t Biden ban fracking altogether?

Despite its environmental impact, fracking makes up a big part of the American economy. A ban on fracking would destroy tens of thousands of jobs in Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania. Committing to a fracking ban during his campaign could have cost Biden valuable votes in these states during the presidential election. “Fracking is really important to white, working class voters – especially in the key swing state of Pennsylvania,” says Washington policy analyst Ed Mills via CNN.

Moreover, it is unlikely Biden could ban fracking without Congressional action, even if he wanted to. Banning fracking would require a law passed through Congress, not just an executive order, and many Democrats and most Republicans share Biden’s beliefs regarding the economic benefits of fracking.

What has the Biden administration done so far?

In late January, “the Biden administration imposed a 60-day suspension of new oil and gas leasing and drilling permits on federal lands” and “[ordered] a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal land and water areas,” CNN reported. This is merely a pause on creating new fracking sites on federal land while the administration conducts a review. The suspension also does nothing for existing fracking sites or potential fracking sites on private land.

What will the Biden administration do about fracking in the future?

There is a significant movement urging Biden to ban fracking completely for the sake of the environment. According to a poll commissioned by Data for Progress, “63% of Democrats supported a fracking ban [and] only 19% opposed a ban.” However, Biden will likely remain consistent with his campaign promises and “gradually move away from fracking” without banning it outright.

Article thumbnail “Fracking Operations” by Joshua Doubek licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.