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Sanders and Bloomberg split over banning fracking

By Ben Geman

Tonight’s Democratic primary debate in Las Vegas laid bare the candidates’ differences over fracking as Bernie Sanders defended his push for an outright ban and challenged concerns that it could hurt Democrats politically.

Driving the news: NBC’s Chuck Todd asked Sanders what he would tell workers in Pennsylvania, a swing state where natural gas extraction via fracking is a major industry. Todd cited this New York Times piece on the politics of fracking there.

  • Sanders, who is leading in national polls, replied he would tell workers of the need to act “incredibly boldly” in the near future to prevent “irreparable” global damage from climate change.
  • ‘The Green New Deal that I support, by the way, will create up to 20 million good-paying jobs as we move our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy,” said Sanders.

The other side: Michael Bloomberg, whose has donated heavily to anti-coal and other climate efforts, said he did not support a ban a fracking, the technique that has enabled the decade-plus surge in U.S. oil and natural gas production.

  • “If we enforced some of the rules on fracking so that they don’t release methane into the air and into the water, you will make a big difference, but we are not going to get rid of fracking for a while,” he said.
  • “We want to go to all renewables, but that is still many years from now,” Bloomberg said.

Similarly, Amy Klobuchar referred to natural gas as a “transitional fuel” but said she does not support calls for a ban.

  • “We have to review all of the permits that are out there right now for natural gas and then make decisions on each one of them and then not grant new ones until we make sure that it is safe,” she said.

The big picture: A national ban on fracking — which Sanders and Elizabeth Warren support — is extraordinarily unlikely to get through Congress.

  • But an anti-fracking president could greatly restrict the practice on federal lands.
  • However, the U.S. oil and gas production boom has been centered largely on state and private lands in Texas, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

Go deeper: A fracking ban could be a dicey proposal for Democrats in 2020