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Fracking Becomes Hot Button Issue For Clinton, Sanders in Marcellus Country

Less than one week before Democrats in New York head to the primary to select their pick for the 2016 presidential election -- and less than two weeks before Pennsylvania does likewise -- former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) have taken very different stands on hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which could impact the final results.

Meanwhile, a new Siena College Research Institute poll finds Clinton, who served two terms as senator in New York, still had a double-digit lead over Sanders in that state's primary.

New York will hold its primary on Tuesday (April 19), followed by Pennsylvania and four other states on April 26. All are closed primaries, which means only registered Democratic voters may participate. The two candidates were scheduled to debate on Thursday in Brooklyn, NY.

Sanders 'Feeling the Bern' Over Fracking

During his tenure in the Senate, and from the beginning of his campaign for the White House, Sanders has made it clear that he not only opposes fracking, but he also wants to see a nationwide ban.

"I don't have to explain to anyone here that the growing body of evidence tells us that fracking is a danger to our water supply, our most precious resource," Sanders told about 5,000 supporters in Binghamton, NY, on Monday. "It is a danger to the air we breathe and can cause lung cancer. It has resulted in more earthquakes. It is highly explosive. And it is contributing to climate change.

"And on this issue of fracking, Secretary Clinton and I have some very strong differences of opinion. In my view...we need to put end to fracking not only in New York and Vermont, but all over this country."

Clinton has Caveats

Clinton's position on some energy issues appears to match her opponent’s, but she has acknowledged some states’ rights on fracking. As examples, her official campaign website said she supports reducing oil consumption by one-third, and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 30% in 2025, relative to 2005 levels. Her website also indicates that she would also oppose some offshore oil and gas drilling.

"As we transition to a clean energy economy, we must ensure that the fossil fuel production taking place today is safe and responsible and that areas too sensitive for energy production are taken off the table," the website said. "Hillary knows there are some places where we should keep fossil fuels in the ground or under the ocean."

Despite her home state’s moratorium on it, Clinton's website doesn't specifically mention fracking. Using negative inference, her answer to a question about fracking at a debate last month in Flint, MI, appears to indicate that she supports fracking, with caveats -- more regulatory oversight, full chemical disclosure, and in places where it is currently taking place without local opposition.

"I don't support [fracking] when any locality or any state is against it," Clinton said. "I don't support it when the release of methane or contamination of water is present. I don't support it unless we can require that anybody who fracks has to tell us exactly what chemicals they are using.

"By the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place. And I think that's the best approach, because right now there are places where fracking is going on that are not sufficiently regulated. We've got to regulate everything that is currently underway and we have to have a system in place that prevents further fracking."

However, campaigning earlier in Ohio, home to the Utica Shale, Clinton, known as a pragmatist, acknowledged state and local oversight over much of shale fracking regulation.

"...so much of what governs fracking right now is within state and local control, and the federal government, I think, has an important role to play," particularly in ensuring local communities have some say in the rules, she told a group at Ohio State University.

“I've got to figure out what I can do on the federal level as opposed to what we're going to have to work at on the state level" (see Shale Daily, March 15).

Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association President Lou D'Amico told NGI's Shale Daily that he doesn't believe either Clinton or Sanders supports fracking.

"There is not a Democrat in the world that supports fracking, and I defy them to tell me differently," D'Amico said Wednesday. "They are so in the pocket of the radical environmentalists and the global warming folks. None of them want to see this continue, and the reality is if they would get their way, this country is in horrible shape for energy, pure and simple."

Although New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned high-volume hydraulic fracturing  in the state last year (see Shale Daily,June 29, 2015), Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York said fracking is still an issue there.

"Lay Off The 'F' Word"

The debate over fracking "is just a joke," Gill said Wednesday. "Unfortunately, it isn't to [Sanders] and the majority of his loyal fans. They really think that his proposal for something like a nationwide ban makes sense. And the funny thing is you never hear him come up with an alternative."

Gill said he was recently approached for some technical assistance by the campaign for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who is seeking his party's nomination for president. He said he told a local Cruz campaign coordinator "to maybe lay off the 'F' word a little bit, and talk in a more positive way about natural gas.

"We as industry really have to clarify [fracking] to people,” Gill said. “Talking about the fracking industry would be like talking about the windshield industry when you're talking about the automotive industry. If you don't like windshields, but you still like cars, that doesn't make any sense. People can't differentiate between fracking and consumers using natural gas.

"I'm not a Hillary or a Bernie fan, but if somebody had a gun to my head and said 'you have to vote for one or the other,' I would say probably Hillary. I know America is sick and tired of career politicians and the establishment, but I think Hillary at least knows her way around government enough to know that business does influence legislation and politics, and she probably has been in more of a position to understand the dire importance of fossil fuels in our economy.

"Bernie, as far as I'm concerned, is just in left field somewhere."

According to the official website for the Sanders campaign, the senator was thrilled that his home state of Vermont was the first to ban fracking, although critics say the ban was a symbolic gesture at best (see Shale Daily,May 18, 2012).

In the Senate, Sanders was one of six co-sponsors of S 2238 -- also known as the Keep It in the Ground Act of 2015 -- introduced last November by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). The bill calls for amending the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act by prohibiting the Department of Interior (DOI) from issuing new leases for exploring or producing oil and natural gas in the offshore Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. It would also ban the DOI from renewing, reinstating or extending any such leases.

S 2238 also calls for canceling any leases issued in Alaska's Cook Inlet and the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, and to not offer any leases in the future. In an unrelated move last October, the DOI scrapped auctions in the Beaufort and Chukchi under the federal five-year leasing program through 2017 (see Daily GPI,Oct. 19, 2015).

The bill was read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, of which Sanders is a member. Meanwhile, Merkley announced Wednesday that he supports Sanders for president -- the first senator to do so -- and indicated that Sanders's backing of S 2238 was a factor in earning his support.

"He has passionately advocated for pivoting from fossil fuels to renewable energy to save our planet from global warming -- the greatest threat facing humanity," Merkley said of Sanders, in a column published online Wednesday by the New York Times. "He recognizes that to accomplish this we must keep the vast bulk of the world's fossil fuels in the ground."

Sanders' website also said the candidate supports reducing carbon emissions and instituting a carbon tax, which the Senate Finance Committee debated in September 2014 (see Daily GPI,Sept. 17, 2014). The website also trumpeted Sanders' opposition to the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline and exports of liquefied natural gas and crude oil.

Poll Finds Clinton Ahead in New York

On Wednesday, Siena College Research Institute said Clinton led Sanders in New York among likely Democratic voters, 52-42%. But Clinton's lead over Sanders has shrunk since March 7, when she led 55-34% among registered Democrats.

"Sanders has widened his lead among voters under 35 to a whopping 52 points, up from 17 points, while Clinton leads among voters over 55 by 22 points, although that's down from a 39-point lead with older voters," said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg. "The younger voters are feeling the 'Bern,' but the question is will they come out and vote in large numbers, as older voters historically do?"

The Siena poll surveyed 538 likely Democratic primary voters between April 6 and 11, and has a margin of error of plus/minus 4.5%.

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