President Donald Trump offered a warning to Oklahoma and other energy-rich states during the final months of his unsuccessful re-election bid.
The president cautioned that if Joe Biden won, the new Democratic president would quickly take action on an aggressive climate-change agenda, specifically by banning fracking across the country, a move he said would eliminate thousands of oil and gas jobs.
“Well, that means Texas is going to be one of the most unemployed states in our country,” the president said during a news conference in July. “That means Oklahoma, North Dakota, New Mexico are going to be a disaster.”
Biden’s actual written energy plan, however, previews a much different agenda.
Contrary to Trump’s claims, which have been rated as false by several fact-checkers, Biden does not plan a wholesale ban on old or new fracking. His climate strategy includes a proposal to only cease approving new oil and gas permits on federal lands.
In Oklahoma, where less than 2% of the land is owned by the federal government, the impact of fulfilling campaign promise would be far from the dire scenarios Trump suggested for the state’s oil and gas industry.
Energy leaders and environmental activists say that although they see a Biden administration looking much different from its predecessor, they do not see a widespread ban on fracking anytime soon.
Instead, experts are planning for a return — and in some cases, an expansion — of the Obama-era energy and climate strategy Trump has largely dismantled.
Brook Simmons, president of the Petroleum Alliance of Oklahoma, said rather than fearing a fracking ban, he is more concerned about a suite of packages that Biden could adopt.
“If Biden chooses to ban permits for drilling on federal lands, he even probably has some challenges ahead of him in doing that,” Simmons said. “But he can still inflict pain on the industry through things like delays and just death by a thousand cuts by slowing the industry’s plans for development or investment.”
Nursing homes and long-term care facilities that care for Oklahoma’s elderly and disabled residents are battling the latest wave of COVID-19. At least one worker and 16 residents have died.
What Biden Plans Says
The Biden campaign released a nine-step climate plan that lays out his strategy to limit emissions and boost clean-energy sources.
Promises include rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, setting a goal to reach a zero-emission economy by 2050, investing $400 billion over the next 10 years to boost clean-energy technologies and jobs and requiring polluters to bear the full cost of their climate impacts.
Neither that document nor a longer version of it on his campaign website makes specific mention of fracking.
That didn’t deter debate over the future of the drilling technique, which has been a major source of Oklahoma’s oil and gas growth. Trump and his allies launched several ads, deemed misleading by fact-checkers, that falsely tried to claim Biden plans to ban fracking. According to Factcheck.org, this includes a commercial featuring a fracking technician who said a Biden victory “would be the end of my job and thousands of others.”
In another clip by the conservative Americans For Tax Reform — shared by Trump, the Oklahoma Republican Party and thousands of others on Facebook — Biden is seen stating his opposition to fossil fuels several times. But it leaves out the many times Biden and his aides clarified that neither he nor Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris supports a widespread ban.
Johnson Bridgwater, director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club, said even if Biden wanted to fully ban fracking, as Sen. Bernie Sanders and some other of the more progressive members of his party want, it would be extremely difficult.
Unlike a moratorium on new oil and gas permits on federal land, banning fracking on private land would require an act of Congress and cooperation among states and the many regulatory agencies that oversee drilling. Any such move would also likely face opposition from some Democrats, particularly in states that depend on the energy sector.
“It’s just not going to happen,” Bridgwater said. “So let’s end it there.”
In one Oklahoma prison, 82% of inmates tested positive for COVID-19. One of them was Robert Lavern.
What Will Change in Oklahoma?
That’s not to say the energy landscape won’t look different under a Biden administration.
Simmons, with the Petroleum Alliance of Oklahoma, said he believes the next four years will be like “night and day” compared to Trump’s deregulatory moves.
Simmons said among his fears are policies that could limit or delay pipeline construction, increase royalty rates and empower environmental groups to go after energy companies in court.
“It is going to impact every oil and gas producers and every oil and company in the nation,” he said.
Just how much Biden will be able to change things could be decided in January.
Simmons said he’ll be closely watching Georgia’s U.S. senator run-offs on Jan. 5. If the Democrats can win both seats, control of the Senate will be split 50-to-50 and they would hold a majority since Harris can cast tie-breaking votes.
If not, Republicans will be able to block much of his legislative agenda since they would hold control over the Senate. In this scenario, Simmons said he would envision the new administration as “Obama 2.0 on steroids.”
“A Republican Senate will probably force a Biden administration to be more rational, and it preserves some of the Trump improvements on oil and gas regulatory policy,” he said. “Those are potential brake pedals to overzealous environmental legislation.”
A razor-thin Democratic majority in the Senate, however, could give Biden more chances to pass sweeping legislation directing more money to clean-energy projects or to go after polluters.
Bridgwater agreed that the oil and gas regulatory environment will look vastly different. But he said many environmentalists see Biden as a “climate realist.”
“He plans to get us back on good footing in regards to climate change,” he said. “But by no means is he some type of crazy radical who will be pushing these super left-leaning green policies that some make him out to (be).”
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