PITTSBURGH (Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said on Monday he would not ban hydraulic fracturing, a controversial method of drilling for crude oil and natural gas, if elected and called Republican assertions that he supports such a ban a lie.
The comment added a level of nuance to Biden’s energy platform, which includes an ambitious timeline for transitioning the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels and an end to new oil and gas drilling leasing on federal lands to fight climate change.
“I am not banning fracking. Let me say that again. I am not banning fracking, no matter how many times Donald Trump lies about me,” Biden said during a speech in western Pennsylvania, home to one of the world’s largest natural gas deposits.
Pennsylvania is a battleground state that could play a decisive role in the Nov. 3 election between Biden and Trump, the Republican president.
Environmental activists say fracking can pollute underground aquifers, an assertion the industry says is overblown. The drilling technology has touched off a surge in domestic oil and gas production, upsetting groups concerned about climate change.
The western Pennsylvania region, once a Democratic stronghold, has become much more Republican in recent years due partly to Democratic plans to phase out fossil-fuel energy.
Biden’s comments were a detour in a speech otherwise dominated by the subjects of civil unrest and the coronavirus, a nod to the vulnerability the former vice president faces as his party becomes increasingly hostile to drilling.
Biden’s position on fracking has at times been confusing.
In a March Democratic primary debate, he said: “No more – no new fracking.” The statement came after his then-rival Bernie Sanders said he would end fracking in the United States to combat global warming.
Biden’s campaign then said he meant he would not allow new federal land-drilling leases.
Trump campaign representative Samantha Zager said Biden’s campaign was “attempting to walk back his previous statements after realizing voters aren’t happy about his proposal to kill thousands of jobs.”
Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw; Additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Peter Cooney and Bill Berkrot