Op-Ed: Moratorium on Natural Gas Would be Wake-Up Call

Like millions of Americans, I watched the Oct. 15th Democratic presidential debate. And, like millions of Americans, I was disappointed. Rather than pragmatically addressing the concerns my constituents worry about every day, the majority of the candidates pushed for radical and unrealistic positions on a number of issues.

Though it wasn’t addressed in full, a number of candidates on the stage have previously voiced opposition to natural gas, advocating for far-reaching environmental solutions that would be detrimental to the economies of our state and our country, to America’s energy security, and, ironically, to the environment itself. Given the critical role that natural gas has played in our energy landscape, the absence of any conversation about natural gas was telling in and of itself.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is looking more and more like a frontrunner every day, has been the most aggressive in her rhetoric. In early September, she called for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing “everywhere.” As a U.S. Senator from a state that doesn’t create energy, her calls for this kind of unrealistic action were easy to ignore. But as a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination, she has a responsibility to understand what such an extreme move means to our energy landscape, to hundreds of thousands of jobs, including in the building trades, across the country, and to families in communities just like mine.

The question that she neglects to answer is glaring: how could we realistically and economically replace what accounts for almost one-third of our electricity supply?  Natural gas, the United States’ leading power supply that accounts for 32% of our electricity, comes almost entirely from hydraulic fracturing.  A moratorium on this crucial energy supply would be disastrous, risking potential outages and hitting working families’ pocketbooks by raising prices. In Pennsylvania, shale development has helped cut residential electric bills by 40%—we’d see them skyrocket back up overnight if a moratorium were put in place. These candidates might claim to be taxing the rich to pay for their proposals, but raising our electric bills sounds like a tax on everyone.   

While much of America has benefited from a clean, domestic, affordable energy source, Massachusetts’ lack of pipelines has forced it to rely partly on imports from foreign adversaries. In 2018, for instance, the state had to import natural gas from Russia. Meanwhile, their average retail electricity prices are 81% higher than in Pennsylvania. This is exactly the kind of illogical energy policy we should be avoiding—why choose Russia over energy independence? Why choose higher electricity prices over jobs?

In Pennsylvania alone, the energy industry supports over 300,000 jobs. These are good-paying jobs that would be gone the minute a moratorium were to be implemented.  Losing the taxes and natural gas Act 13 impact fees producers pay will go beyond our pocketbooks—it will mean less money for local governments to pay for essential government services like schools, roads, public safety and emergency services.  Remember our “Impact Tax,” the only one of its kind in the U.S., generates more public funds from the gas industry than the so-called severance taxes in Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio and West Virginia combined.

Finally, to propose a moratorium is to ignore the positive environmental impacts that shale development has had in the U.S. Over the past two decades, as natural gas has ramped up, carbon emissions have dramatically decreased.  These achievements are in-large-part a result of technological advancements being made by the private sector, not government.  Market conditions continue to drive the increase in low emission generating sources, like natural gas.

As a Senator and a conservative, I like to follow a legislative version of the Hippocratic oath: “first, do no harm.” A moratorium on hydraulic fracturing would do exactly that—it would harm energy consumers, it would harm America’s energy security, it would harm the country’s emissions profile and it would harm our workers.

Natural gas is involved in almost every aspect of our daily lives from the clothes we wear, to the food we eat, to the medicines we take, to the cars we drive, to the electricity and cell phones we use and, yes, even to the manufacturing of solar panels and wind turbines.  A moratorium on hydraulic fracturing would bring the U.S. economy as we know it to a halt, while endangering the safety of our communities and livelihoods of our citizens. Candidates for public office have a responsibility to be honest with their constituents, respect their intelligence, and not choose empty, cheap rhetoric over a healthy debate.