Trump rattles industry with fracking position

Trump rattles industry with fracking position
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Republican presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump cheers on Senate GOP ahead of 'skinny' ObamaCare repeal vote Live Coverage: Senate votes down 'skinny' ObamaCare repeal Pete King defends ‘unorthodox’ Scaramucci after attacks on Priebus MORE is stirring unease in the oil and natural gas industry with his remarks about hydraulic fracturing.

Trump supports fracking but says towns and states should be allowed to ban the drilling practice. That position is at odds with industry groups and congressional Republicans, who say the practice is safe and should be permitted nationwide.

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Oil industry representatives remain behind Trump, arguing he would be better for energy development than Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonSessions says he doesn't regret recusing himself from Russia probe Judiciary Committee Republicans want a second special counsel: report Fusion GPS: White House trying to smear us on Russia MORE, but his remarks about fracking have raised eyebrows. 

“It does show that although there’s all this talk about being a businessman, there is a lot of nuance when you’re talking about an industry that he’s not familiar with,” said one lobbyist who requested anonymity to speak freely about the Republican nominee. 

“I think that there is an education process that the candidate still needs to understand.” 

Trump’s comments on fracking came in an interview with the Denver television station KUSA. 

“I’m in favor of fracking, but I think that voters should have a big say in it,” Trump said in the interview. “I mean, there’s some areas, maybe, they don’t want to have fracking. And I think if the voters are voting for it, that’s up to them.” 

He said the country needs fracking, “but if a municipality or a state wants to ban fracking, I can understand that.”

An oil refining industry executive who also requested anonymity to talk about Trump said the comments were concerning. 

“He said states and municipalities,” the executive noted. “That’s a big leap, and I’m sure he doesn’t appreciate the big leap he just took.” 

“The hope from the industry perspective is that if [Trump] gets elected, he would surround himself with detailed-oriented folks, and we’d be able to at least work with them,” the refining official added. 

Trump’s position on fracking fits in with his broader election message, where he has often advocated moving power away from Washington. In the controversy over transgender bathroom laws, for instance, he has called for letting local communities and states make the decision.

“The oil industry probably doesn’t need to be afraid that a Trump administration would tackle fracking in a way that severely restricted production,” said Kevin Book, an analyst and managing partner at ClearView Energy Partners.

“Is he pro- or anti-oil? He’s pro-oil. He’s said as much,” he said. “But he’s not clearly going to support the oil industry in all of its requests.”

Opponents of fracking say the practice — which involves using highly pressurized liquid to unlock oil and gas from rock — is dangerous and can pollute groundwater, soil and air. While those advocates have had little success outlawing the practice on the federal or state level, they have had success in passing bans on the local level. New York has even banned the practice statewide.

Industry representatives see local fracking bans, and political attempts to encourage them, as a major threat to the country’s growing energy production.

“Banning fracking means stripping American citizens of their personal property rights,” said Steve Everley, spokesman for North Texans for Natural Gas, an industry-backed group that advocates various gas-friendly policies, including fighting local fracking bans. 

“There's a reason why these bans have resulted in costly lawsuits, and unfortunately it's local taxpayers who are stuck with the bill.” 

Experts at the state level should be the ones to regulate the drilling practice, the industry officials say. 

“Developing oil and gas resources in Colorado can be a complex issue that doesn’t lend itself well to sound bites,” Dan Haley, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said in a statement after Trump’s interview aired.

“In Colorado, the state Supreme Court has declared that local governments cannot ban fracking. Instead, the industry is regulated by the state under the most rigorous rules in the country.”

Even Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), who has endorsed Clinton, opposes local bans on fracking.

“I don’t think he understands, completely, the issue,” Hickenlooper told The Denver Post after Trump’s comments. “But that’s not unusual for him.” 

Clinton also wants local communities to be able to ban fracking. But for the most part, the question of local control is handled by state governments and is not something the federal government can dictate. 

Trump has expressed strong support for fossil fuels. He used a May speech in North Dakota’s oil patch to rail against the energy policies of President Obama and Clinton and promised billions of dollars of economic activity from new oil and gas production and a rollback of regulations. 

But some of his statements have also confounded the oil industry. He has promised to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline only if the United States could get “a piece of the profits,” has demonized oil as a “special interest” and said he supports the federal ethanol mandate. 

Overall, the industry isn’t holding its breath for a Trump or Clinton presidency. 

“Nothing against either candidate, but we all wish there were better candidates,” Scott Sheffield, head of Pioneer Natural Resources Co., said at a forum last week.