Led by President Obama, most Democrats have tried to occupy a careful middle ground on the natural-gas industry that’s transforming the U.S. energy economy. But that balance might not last much longer, as environmentally conscious “fracktivists” look for ways to press their case that the potential for pollution outweighs the jobs created by the mushrooming shale gas drilling industry.
Natural gas doesn’t receive full-throated Democratic backing like wind and solar power, but it doesn’t come under heavy fire like oil and coal, either. Obama, for instance, has called for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to be safe and carefully monitored, but has never pushed for federal restrictions on it.
Some environmental leaders and so-called fracktivists are hopeful the party will turn against the industry. And they have some reason for optimism. Already Democratic governors and presidential prospects Mario Cuomo and Martin O’Malley have upheld moratoriums on the controversial process in their respective states, New York and Maryland, suggesting the issue could emerge as a potent one in a presidential primary. And this summer, the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee passed a resolution calling for all drilling to temporarily halt in the Keystone State. The resolution was nonbinding, but it was nonetheless significant in a state seen as ground zero for the country’s natural-gas boom and where Democrats have been friendly to the industry.