Sanders had an unequivocal position during the Democratic primaries — he wants a nationwide ban on fracking. Biden disagreed, saying he did not support a national ban but he would support an end to additional permits for drilling on federal lands.
As usual, the Trump campaign justifies this ad by taking some Biden quotes out of context.
Fracking, short for “hydraulic fracturing,” is a drilling technique that uses high-pressure water and chemical blasts to access natural gas and oil reserves underground. The technique has facilitated a boom in U.S. energy production over the past decade, but it has been controversial, the target of climate-change activists and many Democrats.
The issue is important to Pennsylvania because underneath about two-thirds of the state is the Marcellus shale formation — which also covers parts of New York, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland.
Meanwhile, Biden has proposed a $1.7 trillion plan that aims for net-zero emissions by 2050. The plan would end fossil fuel subsidies while continuing to rely on these energy sources during the 30-year transition period.
In the midst of Jen’s commentary, the ad plays a clip of Biden saying: “No more — no new fracking.” This is an out-of-context video from Biden’s debate with Sanders on March 15.
Confusingly, the ad precedes that clip with text that says “Joe Biden will end fracking” and the citation of “Biden Remarks, 9/16/20.” Biden did not speak about fracking on Sept. 16, and the clip was from March 15. So that citation is incorrect.
Over the course of the campaign, Biden has straddled a fine line at times. On Sept. 6, 2019, he told a young climate activist who confronted him, “We’re going to end fossil fuel.” In the debate with Sanders, he appeared, briefly, to agree with his then-rival on fracking. That’s the clip the Trump campaign highlights.
But when you watch the whole exchange between Biden and Sanders, you see that Sanders is berating Biden for being too timid.
“I’m talking about stopping fracking, as soon as we possibly can,” Sanders said. “I’m talking about telling the fossil fuel industry that they are going to stop destroying this planet. No ifs, buts and maybes about it.”
Biden interjects, “So am I.” When we re-watched the video for this fact check, Biden appears to be responding to Sanders’s second sentence — about telling off the fossil fuel industry — not the first about fracking. But even Sanders seems confused. “Well, I’m not sure your proposal does that,” he says. “I know your heart is in the right place, but this requires dramatic, bold action. We’ve got to take on the fossil fuel industry. Your plan does not do that.”
Before this exchange, Biden had described his plan: “Number one, no more subsidies for fossil fuel industry. No more drilling on federal lands. No more drilling, including offshore.”
But after this exchange, Biden says the line clipped in the ad: “No more, no new fracking.” He then goes on a tangent about the energy incentives in the 2009 stimulus bill before he again reiterates that his plan is “making sure that we move in a direction where no more, no more drilling on federal lands.”
Watching Sanders in the video, you see he’s also puzzled by Biden’s “no new fracking” comment until the vice president circles back to his standard position. During the debate, the Biden campaign quickly issued a statement saying that the vice president misspoke and that he was referring to his stated policy to ban new permits for oil and gas drilling on federal land and offshore.
Regular readers know that we value more highly repeated policy statements of politicians rather than one-off comments spoken extemporaneously. Biden has had a consistent policy against a nationwide fracking ban — even when he was one of the few major Democratic candidates to argue against such a ban. Instead, he would allow existing fracking to continue and ban only new fracking permits on federal lands. Here are some examples:
Aug. 31, remarks in Pittsburgh: “With a clean-energy strategy that has a place for the energy workers right here in western Pennsylvania. I am not banning fracking. Let me say that again. I am not banning fracking — no matter how many times Donald Trump lies about me.”
May 22, interview on CNBC: “The whole idea of whether or not we’re going to stop fracking, I would not stop fracking. I’d gradually move away from fracking. I would just not do more fracking on federal lands. I would gradually move us out of the position of relying on oil and gas, excuse me, and coal.”
April 20, interview with KDKA: “I would not shut down this industry. I know our Republican friends are trying to say I said that. I said I would not do any new leases on federal lands. Ninety percent of the leases are not on federal land, to begin with. But I would just make sure that it was being made sure that with everybody and with the governor as well that methane is not escaping and the water is not being contaminated. But I would not shut it down.”
Sept. 4, 2019, CNN Climate Town Hall: “Former vice president Joe Biden said he would not support a nationwide fracking ban on Wednesday — in part because he doesn’t believe any measure banning fracking could pass — but the Delaware Democrat said he does support stopping all ‘oil drilling or gas drilling on federal lands.’ ”
These comments echo official policy papers. The Biden climate plan on his campaign website calls for “banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters.” Also, the policy platform adopted at the Democratic National Convention states: “We support banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters.”
Certainly, Biden’s position has not won him favor with the left wing of the Democratic Party.
The Sunrise Movement, a youth-oriented climate group, has criticized Biden’s plan, saying it “doesn’t call for a ban on fracking natural gas.” At a campaign stop in December, Biden was asked by an activist: “I’ve looked at your climate plan. Why doesn’t it ban fracking?” He responded, “Because you can’t ban fracking right now; you’ve got to transition away from it.” When challenged, Biden replied: “You ought to vote for somebody else.”
So this made us curious about “Jen,” the woman in the ad. The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for information about where she is employed. She is wearing a hard hat and uniform (the name “Jennifer” is stitched on it) with a logo of Rockdale Marcellus LLC, a Pennsylvania company associated with Rockdale Holdings of Houston. We found a permit violation that listed a Rockdale representative with the first name of Jen and eventually tracked down Jennifer Compton, an environmental supervisor for Tilden Management Services. Compton confirmed via email that she is the woman in the ad. (Tilden manages wells for Rockdale Marcellus.)
Rockdale officials did not respond to a request for comment, but a person associated with Rockdale’s business said they did not believe any of the wells were on federal property. We did a spot check of active Rockdale Marcellus wells listed on WellWiki, which has Google images of each well, and did not find any on public lands. In other words, Biden’s fracking policy would not affect the company that Compton works for.
Compton defended her remarks in the ad.
“Biden’s plan to end [new permits for] fracking on federal lands would be just the beginning,” Compton said in an exchange of messages on LinkedIn. “Once the government starts picking and choosing where permits will be allowed and where they won’t, it is a slippery slope from there. I most certainly believe that if Biden is elected, my job will be in jeopardy. The ad is not misleading in any way.”
The Pinocchio Test
As with the bogus claim that Biden supports defunding police, the Trump campaign has seized on one confusing sound bite to claim Biden has a policy position that he does not hold. It’s a tiresome tactic that makes a mockery of a serious policy debate.
As president, Biden says, he would not approve new fracking permits on federal lands. But he would allow existing fracking to continue on federal property and existing and new fracking to continue on private land. Despite the occasional hiccup in his public remarks, that has been Biden’s position all along.
Compton raises a “slippery slope” possibility of what might some day stem from Biden’s policy. But the ad does not make that clear and instead asserts that Biden has already declared he would force thousands of people in Pennsylvania out of their jobs.
The Trump campaign earns Four Pinocchios.
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