U.S. Chamber of Commerce warns of ‘catastrophic’ consequences of a potential fracking ban in Pa.

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A new report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce warns that Pennsylvania could lose as many as 600,000 jobs if the state ever moved to ban fracking, the controversial practice used to extract natural gas from the earth.

Such a policy would have “catastrophic” consequences, according to Marty Durbin, president of the chamber’s Global Energy Institute.

The study, which does not take into account climate or public health concerns, concluded Keystone State would lose 65,000 oil and natural gas jobs alone between 2021 and 2025, and take a $261 billion hit to the state GDP. That’s roughly a third of the state’s current GDP, according to federal data.

The document also looked at a number of other oil and gas-producing swing states that will play a critical role in the 2020 elections. 

Nationally, the study predicted higher energy prices, a $7.1 trillion GDP hit, and 19 million jobs lost by 2025, if the U.S. banned the industrial process. Fracking refers to shooting a high pressure fluid mixture into the ground to open up subterranean beds of natural gas for extraction. The numbers include both direct and indirect effects. 

“In 2016, the notion was considered an extreme position, but today unfortunately we’ve seen many mainstream presidential candidates join in,” Durbin said in a press call.

According to the Washington Post, six of the current Democratic presidential candidates say they would ban fracking, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Whether that’s possible by executive fiat is unclear and unlikely, which Durbin noted. But the executive, without Congress, could still “take many other options to restrict fracking development.” That could include drilling and fracking bans on public lands.

A ban on fracking has gained political ground on the left because of health and climate risks. Proximity to fracking has been associated with respiratory problems and low birth weights, but no study has yet drawn a cause and effect between the two.

Meanwhile, fracking and transporting gas, let alone burning it, releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing climate change.

Natural gas production, transmission and distribution released 10.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide alone, according to the state’s 2017 greenhouse gas inventory. That’s roughly four percent of all state emissions.

The entire total cannot be directly linked to fracking — some is also released by the state’s conventional drillers.

A Carnegie Mellon University study released earlier this month found that the pollution and climate change costs of fracking equaled $57 billion in Appalachia, far exceeding the economic benefits of the industry.

But Durbin argued to “not forget the huge environmental benefits we have garnered” from natural gas.

That includes the replacement of coal, a dirtier energy source, that industry backers often point to. But state and federal projections show that recent carbon reductions from natural gas are temporary, and that emissions will remain relatively constant until 2050.

The calls to ban fracking have started to gain some traction, even as they divide the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania. A handful of progressive local and state candidates, such as Allegheny County Democratic Reps. Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato, have backed a temporary moratorium on fracking.*

But, the industry is a massive one with wide economic impacts. Pennsylvania is the second biggest natural gas producing state, according to federal data. Its role will only become bigger as petrochemical plants, which convert fracked ethane into plastic, come online.

*This story was updated to reflect Rep. Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato’s position on fracking.