Fracking is creating a new dividing line between the nation’s red and blue states.
While liberal-leaning states such as New York and Maryland have opted to ban hydraulic fracturing, despite the potential revenue from natural gas, conservative strongholds such as Texas and Oklahoma have gone the opposite route, moving to ensure that local towns and cities cannot outlaw the practice in their communities.
Observers say a state’s approach to fracking is increasingly falling along partisan lines, with the affiliation of a state’s legislature and governor often reflected in whether the practice is welcome or shunned.
The Democratic leaders of New York and Maryland have banned fracking, responding to the concerns of environmentalists, who say fracking can pollute groundwater and the air.
Kate DeAngelis, the head climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said the increasing evidence of environmental harm from fracking is spurring residents and local political leaders to rise up against the practice.
“There’s just more and more evidence, you see so many new studies coming out even in the last year about the impacts of fracking,” said DeAngelis, whose group pushes for more restrictions and bans on fracking and cheered the decisions.
Supporters of fracking dispute that the practice — which involves high-pressured injections of water and chemicals into rock — is environmentally harmful. They got a boost this week when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a long-awaited review of the scientific research on the topic.
The main conclusion of the nearly 1,000-page EPA report was that fracking has not “led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”
That was welcome news to Texas and Oklahoma, which are promoting fracking as critical for their local economies.
The debate over fracking is raging at the local level, where states and localities are locked in emotional debates over what restrictions, if any, to place on the practices.
In the states that don’t allow local bans, DeAngelis argued that environmental concerns are being drowned out by the power and influence of oil and gas companies.
“They’re having their interests put above the public interest,” she said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) decided last year to indefinitely ban fracking, disappointing the rural upstate communities that sit atop the gas-rich Marcellus shale formation.
State officials finalized the move last month, shortly before Maryland imposed a 2.5-year moratorium on fracking over the objections of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
The EPA’s report this week finding little evidence of water contamination form fracking has spurred calls for Cuomo to reverse his decision.
Activists in California have put Gov. Jerry Brown (D) under strong pressure to ban fracking there, but have thus far been unsuccessful.
Industry groups fear a patchwork of rules for fracking across municipal lines and want the regulatory questions to be settled on a state-by-state basis.
“We think that the appropriate place to regulate oil and gas activities is at the state level. States have the expertise and the experience within the agencies that regulate oil and gas,” said Frank Macchiarola, head of government affairs for America’s Natural Gas Alliance.
“While there’s certainly a proper role for the localities to have input in the process on issues like noise, lighting and truck traffic, the general jurisdiction of regulating oil and gas activities is most appropriately found at the state level,” he said.
With the federal government mostly staying out of the drilling debate, some states are looking for a middle ground.
Wiseman cited Colorado as an example of a purple state that is seeking compromise. Environmentalists and Democrats decided against sponsoring ballot initiatives on fracking last year, instead agreeing to a task force that is trying to decide how the state and localities can regulate it.
David Spence, a law professor at the University of Texas, predicted states would eventually find a middle ground on fracking.
“You have more opportunities for states to take one or the other extreme position based on their ideology,” he said.
“But I really think in the long run that the more polarized public debate is going to get much less polarized.”