Hillary Clinton never actually said the word “fracking” during her keynote address at the National Clean Energy Summit in Nevada on Thursday, but she still clearly laid out her views on the technique: She’s all for it. She says it needs to be conducted and regulated properly so it doesn’t cause excessive environmental harm, but she believes that can be done. Which puts her totally in line with President Obama, and out of line with most of the environmental community.
During her address, Clinton spoke about the great promise of renewable energy and energy efficiency, for our economy, our national security, and the climate. We need to “build a safe bridge to a clean energy economy,” she said. And when she said the word “bridge,” you knew what was coming next:
Now part of that bridge will certainly come from natural gas. There are challenges here to be sure, but the boom in domestic gas production is an example of American innovation changing the game, and if we do it right, it can be good for both the environment and our economy. With the right safeguards in place, gas is cleaner than coal. And expanding production is creating tens of thousands of new jobs. And lower costs are helping give the United States a big competitive advantage in energy-intensive energies. …
But to capitalize on this boom, we have to face head-on the legitimate, pressing environmental concerns about some new extraction practices and their impacts on local water, soil, and air supplies. Methane leaks in the production and transportation of natural gas are particularly troubling. So it’s crucial that we put in place smart regulations and enforce them, including deciding not to drill when the risks are too high.
That last line, the one about deciding not to drill, is the only one in the natural-gas section of her speech that elicited any applause from the audience.
Clinton was careful to emphasize the need for strong regulation of fracking, but when she was secretary of state, she pushed to spread fracking to countries where environmental regulation is highly unlikely to keep it in check. Even here in the U.S., the practice is still largely unregulated at the federal level. So imagine what it’s like in Bulgaria.
A recent Mother Jones article entitled “The Chevron Communiqués” (in the magazine’s latest print issue, not yet available online) examines Clinton’s efforts while at the State Department to push natural-gas exploration on other countries, and to help the oil giants like Chevron that stand to make big bucks from such a push. [Update: It’s now up online.] Mariah Blake reports:
Under her leadership, the State Department worked closely with energy companies to spread fracking around the globe — part of a broader push to fight climate change, boost global energy supply, and undercut the power of adversaries such as Russia that use their energy resources as a cudgel. But environmental groups fear that exporting fracking, which has been linked to drinking-water contamination and earthquakes at home, could wreak havoc in countries with scant environmental regulation. And according to interviews, diplomatic cables, and other documents obtained by Mother Jones, American officials — some with deep ties to industry — also helped US firms clinch potentially lucrative shale concessions overseas, raising troubling questions about whose interests the program actually serves. …
Clinton … sent a cable to US diplomats asking them to collect information on the potential for fracking in their host countries. These efforts eventually gave rise to the Global Shale Gas Initiative, which aimed to help other nations develop their shale potential. Clinton promised it would do so “in a way that is as environmentally respectful as possible.” But environmental groups were barely consulted, while industry played a crucial role. …
In late 2011, Clinton … promised to instruct US embassies around the globe to step up their work on energy issues and “pursue more outreach to private-sector energy” firms, some of which had generously supported both her and President Obama’s political campaigns.
Clinton’s enthusiasm for fracking in Europe and other countries is not just about helping campaign donors like Chevron. She legitimately wants to lessen global reliance on Russia for natural gas supplies. That makes sense; Putin is a real threat. But climate change is a bigger threat.
“With the right safeguards in place, gas is cleaner than coal,” Clinton insisted in her speech on Thursday — but there is no agreement on what the right safeguards would be, and some scientists doubt that any safeguards would be safe enough. [Update:] The life-cycle emissions of natural gas are particularly high and concerning when gas is liquefied and shipped abroad — and Clinton said on Thursday that she’s potentially open to just those sorts of gas exports from the U.S. to Europe and Asia.