The final presidential debate on Thursday crystallized stark differences between the candidates on climate and energy policy, as Joseph R. Biden Jr. stressed the urgency of addressing climate change while President Trump warned that the Democratic nominee’s plans would hurt the economy.

Oil and gas production in select basins

Calling climate change “an existential threat to humanity,” Biden said, “We have a moral obligation to do something,” and that he would seek to transition away from oil and gas toward renewable energy. The former vice president also said he would end federal subsidies for the oil industry.

Trump, meanwhile, said Biden’s $2 trillion climate plan would be “an economic disaster,” and seized on Biden’s comments to warn oil-producing states about the potential impacts of regime change.

“Will you remember that, Texas?,” Trump asked from the debate stage in Nashville, TN, after Biden’s comment on transitioning from oil. “Will you remember that, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma?”

Biden reaffirmed that he would not institute a blanket ban on hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, but that we would prohibit new drilling on federal property. He also noted that both labor and environmental groups have endorsed his “Build Back Better” climate plan.

North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) on Friday issued a formal endorsement of the Biden-Harris ticket. NABTU President Sean McGarvey said Biden’s plan “to build vibrant, sustainable infrastructure and a secure energy future will support union building trades workers and their families.”

McGarvey has questioned the specifics of Biden’s climate plan, particularly with regard to the quality and compensation of construction jobs in renewable energy versus oil and gas. Tradespeople generally view oil and gas construction jobs as more stable with higher pay.

Trump, meanwhile, claimed his administration has done “an incredible job environmentally” while rolling back regulations on industry.

Since taking office, Trump has withdrawn the United States from the United Nations global climate accord, aka the Paris Agreement. The administration also has worked to weaken regulations governing fuel economy standards, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants, and methane emissions from oil and gas activity.

The issue of emissions in the domestic gas industry has made international headlines recently. France’s government reportedly indefinitely delayed a multibillion dollar deal by Engie SA to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) from NextDecade Corp.’s proposed Rio Grande LNG export terminal in Texas because of concerns over fracking. 

The Trump administration also has sought to expand drilling on federal property including the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, and it has worked to overhaul the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act to make them friendlier to industry.

Biden warned during the debate that four more years the Trump administration’s moves to eliminate regulations would “put us in real trouble.”

In addition to moving toward alternative energy sources, Biden highlighted his plans to add 50,000 electric vehicle charging stations, and to retrofit buildings to make them less energy intensive. Trump, meanwhile, expressed skepticism about widespread adoption of wind and solar power, citing natural gas as a “very clean” and reliable alternative.

“As in the past, fracking and climate change appeared to serve primarily as a ‘wedge’ issue that the two candidates used to highlight their differences,” said analysts at Clearview Energy Partners LLC in a post-debate note to clients They said “we once again saw starkly different implications for the fossil and green energy subsectors, depending on who wins.”

American Petroleum Institute CEO Mike Sommers was diplomatic but resolute in responding to the debate.

“Democrats, Republicans and Independents know that the U.S. natural gas and oil industry delivers affordable and reliable energy to American families and businesses and all over the world,” Sommers said. Because of the energy industry’s efforts, “Americans no longer have to choose between environmental progress and access to affordable, reliable and cleaner energy. And we aren’t going anywhere.”

Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners Association (TIPRO) President Ed Longanecker praised the candidates for a “lively and informative debate” on energy, citing the importance of oil and gas for the economy and national security.

“As the Texas oil and natural gas industry continues to slowly recover from a historic decline in global demand brought on by Covid-19 and other market factors, our policy leaders will be forced to think long-term when considering measures that could impact the future of domestic production and its unmatched contributions from an economic and geopolitical perspective, as well as its quantifiable success in advancing environmental stewardship throughout the oil and gas value chain,” Longanecker said.

The TIPRO chief said, “fossil fuels will remain a vital source of energy here and abroad for decades to come.”

The American Exploration & Production Council (AXPX), meanwhile, noted that more than 95% of U.S. natural gas and oil wells today are developed using hydraulic fracturing, and that onshore federal lands produce about 8% of the nation’s oil and 9% of its natural gas.

AXPX, which represents independent exploration and production firms, also highlighted that U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions fell by 12% from 2005-2018 while corresponding global emissions rose nearly 24%.