Donald Trump’s re-election hopes rest heavily on winning the state of Pennsylvania, which is why he is spending so much time talking about fracking. His campaign falsely claims Joe Biden supports a ban on drilling, and pro-Trump Super PACs are blanketing the airwaves claiming that a Biden drilling ban would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.
The political bet that Pennsylvania voters will support a pro-fracking candidate is a staple of election punditry. But there is abundant evidence that this conventional wisdom is totally incorrect.
Fracking is not popular with Pennsylvania voters in the first place
An August CBS/YouGov poll found that a slight majority of Pennsylvania voters (52 to 48 percent) oppose fracking. And new polling released by Climate Power 2020 shows that Pennsylvania voters favor bold climate action, have negative views of the fracking industry, and support a range of policies to limit drilling. And a recent Franklin & Marshall poll of registered Pennsylvania voters found 48% actually support a ban on fracking, while 39% opposed it.
Victorious anti-fracking candidates show limits of fracking’s appeal
Anti-fracking Democrats have won in key areas of Pennsylvania, despite a heavy influx of industry campaign contributions dedicated to defeating them.
In 2018, anti-fracking candidates Summer Lee, Sara Innamorato and Elizabeth Fiedler won state legislative races, while the movement fighting the Mariner East pipelines in Chester County flipped a key Republican-held state legislative district by electing Danielle Friel Otten. These anti-fracking candidates all won competitive races, unseating incumbents who did not take on the industry. These trends continued in local races in 2019 in the Pittsburgh suburbs, and in the 2020 primaries the industry spent an astonishing sum in an attempt to unseat Friel Otten, while pro-fracking Democrats heavily backed a challenger to Lee. The strategy was a colossal failure; both candidates cruised to victory.
Trump Can’t Save Disappearing Fracking Jobs
While Trump and other pro-fracking politicians claim to be protecting fossil fuel industry workers, the industry has been shedding thousands of jobs in Pennsylvania.
The core of Trump’s fracking blitz is about protecting jobs. One widely aired pro-Trump Super PAC television ad makes the ludicrous claim that a fracking ban would eliminate 600,000 jobs in Pennsylvania. This is wildly inaccurate; before the most recent wave of job cuts, there were about 25,000 fracking jobs in Pennsylvania in total.
Outlandish claims aside, the fracking industry’s financial meltdown has already cost thousands of Pennsylvanians their jobs. Companies laid off hundreds of workers in 2019, and the COVID pandemic has accelerated that trend. One recent study found that almost 9,000 fossil fuel jobs in Pennsylvania were lost between March and July — a 26 percent decline. At this rate, Trump is protecting fracking jobs the same way he ‘saved’ workers in the coal industry.
While overshadowed by Trump’s dishonest rhetoric, the real jobs numbers speak for themselves: A new report shows that clean energy sector jobs grew by almost 9 percent between 2017 and 2019; over the same time period, coal and gas jobs fell by 3.3 and 7.4 percent, respectively.
Fracking has taken a terrible toll on public health in Pennsylvania, and the evidence is clear that the hype about gas being a climate-friendly ‘bridge fuel’ was fossil fuel industry spin. Instead of repeating and reinforcing tropes about fracking’s supposed appeal to swing state voters, there should be more attention devoted to the real story: Anti-fracking politicians are winning their races, drilling is not popular with voters, and Donald Trump is claiming to save workers whose jobs are already being eliminated in an industry that is in the process of collapsing.