Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton privately told union members last year that anti-fossil fuel protesters should “get a life,” and that the issue of fossil fuel extraction wasn’t high on her list of priorities, according to illegally hacked emails released by the group WikiLeaks.

The hacked emails also show the Clinton campaign grappled with the issue of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) earlier this year, during a key battle in Colorado with Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) for the Democratic Party’s nomination.

‘I want to defend natural gas’

According to WikiLeaks, Clinton campaign aide Varun Anand sent a partial transcript of Clinton’s comments during a question and answer (Q&A) session that immediately followed a private meeting with the Building Trades Union on Sept. 9, 2015. The meeting was held about three weeks before she formally announced her opposition to the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline (see Shale Daily, Sept. 24, 2015).

“I have not said anything about Keystone because I wanted to give the president [and Secretary of State John Kerry] a chance to make their decision,” Clinton said. “But I can’t wait any longer. And you know from my perspective, this is just one of these issues…it’s symbolic and it’s not going to go away. They’re all hanging on to it.

“So you know Bernie Sanders is getting lots of support from the most radical environmentalists because he’s out there every day bashing the Keystone pipeline. And, you know, I’m not into it for that…My view is I want to defend natural gas. I want to defend repairing and building the pipelines we need to fuel our economy. I want to defend fracking under the right circumstances…I want to defend this stuff.

“And you know, I’m already at odds with the most organized and wildest [protesters]. They come to my rallies and they yell at me and, you know, all the rest of it. They say, ‘Will you promise never to take any fossil fuels out of the earth ever again?’ No. I won’t promise that. Get a life, you know. So I want to get the right balance and that’s what I’m [inaudible] about– getting all the stakeholders together. Everybody’s not going to get everything they want, that’s not the way it’s supposed to work in a democracy, but everybody needs to listen to each other…”

Moments later, she added “Idon’t support the Keystone pipeline because I don’t think we need to do that…I’m being hammered because I won’t take a position. And I thought I was doing the right thing by not taking a position. I’ll try to figure out the right wording…

“I want to be a champion for your members. Obviously I would love to have your endorsements…Whether you endorse me or not, I’m going to be your advocate and your partner. And I’m going to do what I tell you I will do. But I also don’t want to mislead people and let them think that I’m going to support something when I can’t. Because I don’t think it’s productive to support it, given all the other stuff.”

It was unclear where the meeting took place, or whether it was hosted by North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), which endorsed Clinton last December. NABTU spokesman Tom Owens told NGIon Monday that the organization is “not commenting on emails that were illegally hacked and released.”

Later in the Q&A, Clinton said that despite protesters disrupting her town hall meetings, she didn’t care if opponents of fossil fuel extraction supported another candidate for president; the issue of fossil fuels wasn’t high on her list of priorities. She also hinted that she would not oppose exploration and production from public lands.

She said the protesters “hold up posters, they scream at me, and all the rest of that: ‘Stop extracting fossil fuels, stop extracting on public lands, come out against nuclear, coal’ you name it. They are after everything and I’m just talking through them. And of course they go support somebody else. That’s fine and I don’t particularly care. But I do think I have to say, look, given everything else we have to do in this country, this is not an issue for me that I’m going to say I support. I want to work on other stuff.”

Clinton staffer: No Democrat wants complete fracking ban

The hacked emails allegedly provide a behind-the-scenes look into how the Clinton campaign responded to an ad posted by the rival Sanders campaign in Colorado earlier this year. In the ad, Sanders said he opposed fracking and Keystone XL.

On Feb. 23, Bradley Komar, who runs Clinton’s campaign in Colorado, sent an email to Trevor Houser, an energy policy adviser to Clinton, and other campaign staffers to discuss an official response to Sanders’ anti-fracking ad.

“I would prefer an ally…[who has] strong bona fides on the environment to whack [Sanders] for taking an irresponsible position and in doing so, threatening real progress on frack fluid disclosure and air quality regulations,” Komar wrote, suggesting Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and possibly the League of Conservation Voters as the “ally.” He added, “This is yet another promise he can’t keep.”

“I think we will be forced to weigh in by [Sanders] and of course we have to state our position: it’s a transitional energy — and we need to go green. But that is a very soft response that sounds better if Bernie is being hit by the left. I would watch our tone and not sound too pro-fracking. A reluctant tone is a better fit for [Democratic] caucus goers (it’s a transition energy. It’s not great but it allows us to get to where we want to be).”

In a follow-up email, Houser said that after a private conversation with Komar, “We think the following posture makes sense: ‘Bernie’s call for banning all [fracking] is, extreme, unfeasible and ignores the contribution natural gas has made to our economy and our efforts to reduce carbon pollution. What we need to focus on is putting in place common sense safeguards to protect our air and water, like mandatory disclosure of fracking chemicals, closing the Halliburton loophole, regulations to reduce methane emissions from both new and existing sources.

”Hillary has called for all of these things to make sure that those communities that choose to pursue natural gas development do so safely and responsibly. And she will stand by those communities that decide they don’t want natural gas production to occur.'”

Houser added, “We are seeing if some progressive allies can hit Bernie for being too extreme on this.”

Zeroing in on Sanders’ claim that he is “the only candidate to oppose fracking,” Komar asked Clinton campaign staffers “What does that mean? A complete 100% fracking ban. There is no elected [Dem] and I believe no enviro group that takes this position. In fact, such an extreme position threatens the progress of common-sense safety measures like frack fluid disclosure and methane capture/air quality regulations.

“The Denver Posteditorial board could really smack him for this. This is tricky waters for caucus goers but his language may leave him vulnerable. Jared Polis is a regarded as a leader of the regulating fracking team in [Colorado] and his argument is reforms, not a ban.”

Komar conceded that the subject of fracking is “still really tough for us to talk about.”

Sanders went on to win the Democratic caucus in Colorado by a 59-40% margin on March 1, but he ultimately lost the nomination battle to Clinton.

Industry reaction

Responding to the hacked email controversy, the American Petroleum Institute (API) struck a cautious tone.

“Our focus right now is to make sure all candidates understand that the United States is leading the world in oil and gas production and reducing carbon emissions which are near 20-year lows,” API spokesman Michael Tadeo told NGIon Monday. “The oil and natural gas industry also contributes billions in revenue to the government, and is strengthening the economy and national security.

“Domestic oil and natural gas development has been profoundly beneficial for the U.S. economy, American consumers, and the environment. Safe [fracking] is at the heart of that effort and has completely changed the U.S. energy narrative — from one of scarcity and limitations to one of abundance and empowerment.”