In 2016, Republicans Will Have Fracking on Their Side

National Journal
Clare Foran
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Clare Foran
June 12, 2014, 1:15 a.m.

The road to the White House could be paved with oil and gas for a trio of Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial hope­fuls.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Ted Cruz, and Louisi­ana Gov. Bobby Jin­dal all come from states where frack­ing has cre­ated new jobs in the oil and gas in­dustry. And if any of the Gulf State law­makers launch a pres­id­en­tial bid, frack­ing will bol­ster their eco­nom­ic track re­cord.

In­deed, all three have gone to great lengths to high­light the en­ergy suc­cess story un­fold­ing in their state. The fact that the boom is tak­ing place in their back­yard gives the cadre of con­ser­vat­ives a leg up when it comes time to talk up the be­ne­fits of frack­ing. It also opens the door for them to say they’ve steered their state in the dir­ec­tion of an oil-and-gas gold rush.

“They have cred­ib­il­ity on this is­sue that chal­lengers from states where there is no frack­ing can’t lay claim to,” said Matt Mack­owiak, a Texas-based Re­pub­lic­an con­sult­ant. “There’s a dif­fer­ence between a talk­ing point and something that’s part of your re­cord.”

How much cred­it any of the po­ten­tial can­did­ates de­serve for the en­ergy boom, however, is a mat­ter of con­ten­tion, as is the size of frack­ing’s eco­nom­ic con­tri­bu­tion. Texas and Louisi­ana have be­nefited from their grow­ing en­ergy in­dus­tries, but the sec­tor’s im­pact on the over­all eco­nomy is of­ten over­sold.

Data re­leased by the fed­er­al Bur­eau of Eco­nom­ic Ana­lys­is on Wed­nes­day show that Texas had the eighth-highest gross do­mest­ic product growth rate in the na­tion from 2012 to 2013. Louisi­ana’s over­all eco­nom­ic growth was not as stark. It ranked 34th by the same met­rics.

Ac­cord­ing to the bur­eau’s ana­lys­is, the en­ergy sec­tor was not a ma­jor driver of total eco­nom­ic growth in either state. In Louisi­ana, the min­ing in­dustry ac­tu­ally con­trac­ted by 2.42 per­cent. And in the end, the suc­cess of frack­ing in Texas and Louisi­ana has more to do with the vast re­serves of shale rock un­der­ly­ing each state than the im­ple­ment­a­tion of any policy.

But such nu­ance has a tend­ency to get lost on the cam­paign trail, where eco­nom­ic re­cords are more of­ten taken at face value then parsed for caus­al­ity or the coun­ter­fac­tu­al. And so, Jin­dal, Perry, and Cruz would come to the cam­paign with a power­ful ar­gu­ment.

Fossil-fuel pro­duc­tion could also help Re­pub­lic­ans in the gen­er­al elec­tion. They have a straight­for­ward mes­sage on fossil-fuel de­vel­op­ment: “Yes, and more.”

But across the aisle, there’s neither unity nor sim­pli­city. Some Demo­crats have em­braced frack­ing and nat­ur­al gas as a job cre­at­or and a “bridge fuel” to power the coun­try dur­ing a trans­ition from coal to car­bon-free sources. But oth­ers on the left are wary of the drilling meth­od, both out of skep­ti­cism of its cli­mate be­ne­fits and fears over its loc­al en­vir­on­ment­al foot­print.

Hil­lary Clin­ton, the fa­vor­ite for the Demo­crat­ic pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee should she de­cide to run, says that in­creased nat­ur­al-gas pro­duc­tion has “cre­ated ma­jor eco­nom­ic and stra­tegic op­por­tun­it­ies,” in her re­cently re­leased book Hard Choices. But if she wins the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­a­tion, frack­ing could still cre­ate a polit­ic­al head­ache for Clin­ton.

The con­tro­ver­sial drilling tech­nique polls well with con­ser­vat­ive voters. Demo­crats, on the oth­er hand, are much more likely to be skep­tic­al. (A Pew sur­vey con­duc­ted in Septem­ber 2013 found that 59 per­cent of lib­er­al voters op­posed an in­crease in frack­ing, while 58 per­cent of con­ser­vat­ives sup­por­ted an in­crease.)

Obama has walked a fine line between pro­mot­ing nat­ur­al gas and her­ald­ing the rise of the clean-en­ergy eco­nomy. And the next Demo­crat­ic pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate, Hil­lary Clin­ton or oth­er­wise, is all but guar­an­teed to do the same.

Re­pub­lic­ans, mean­while, could use this to their ad­vant­age. “Frack­ing is an is­sue that could drive a wedge in the Demo­crat­ic Party,” said Chris Turn­er, pres­id­ent and CEO of Texas-based Re­pub­lic­an con­sult­ing firm Stam­pede Con­sult­ing. “If you can split Demo­crats over the is­sue that makes their can­did­ate po­ten­tially much more vul­ner­able.”

Perry, Cruz, and Jin­dal are already levy­ing those at­tacks. Each has cri­ti­cized the ad­min­is­tra­tion for fail­ing to live up to its fossil-fuel po­ten­tial, and they’ve all put for­ward policy pro­pos­als to ramp up fossil-fuel pro­duc­tion.

In Feb­ru­ary, Cruz out­lined a sweep­ing plan to boost oil and gas drilling, in front of an audi­ence of in­flu­en­tial con­ser­vat­ives at the Her­it­age Found­a­tion in Wash­ing­ton.

In Decem­ber, Jin­dal de­livered an ad­dress in Phil­adelphia de­fend­ing frack­ing against claims ques­tion­ing its en­vir­on­ment­al safety. The Louisi­ana gov­ernor also took to the pages of The Wall Street Journ­al to ex­press sup­port for “a clear strategy of in­creas­ing en­ergy pro­duc­tion in all sec­tors — in­clud­ing the hy­dro­car­bon sources ab­horred by the left.”

And dur­ing his last pres­id­en­tial run, Perry pre­viewed a plan that he said would cre­ate more than a mil­lion jobs na­tion­wide through in­creased en­ergy pro­duc­tion.

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