Perhaps more than ever before, the environment is a big issue in this year’s presidential campaign race. Bernie Sanders has solidified his stance against fracking in recent speeches, calling for a nationwide ban on shale gas extraction. The controversial practice is highly criticized by environmentalists and public health advocates due to its use of harmful chemicals that can leach into drinking water supplies and negatively impact delicate ecosystems. Fracking activity has also been linked with an increase in seismic activity in recent years, posing an even bigger threat to wildlife and human communities.
This isn’t Sanders’ first move against oil and gas exploration. Last year, he proposed a bill that would ban fracking activity on federal lands. This week, he ratcheted up his position, calling for a national ban on fracking. In a speech on Monday in Binghamton, New York, the senator said fracking threatens the environment, and poses a public health issue. “In my view, if we are serious about safe and clean drinking water, if we are serious about clean air,” he said. “If we are serious about combating climate change, we need to put an end to fracking not only in New York and Vermont, but all over this country.”
The fact that Sanders chose a NY venue to announce this shift in ideology isn’t a coincidence. The state of New York banned fracking in late 2014, following a massive public movement against the destructive activity. Sanders applauded the efforts of activists in barring the dangerous method of shale gas extraction in their home state, and said that similar grassroots movements would be needed to support a national ban. Actress and activist Susan Sarandon narrates a new pro-Bernie ad, citing that he is the only candidate supporting a national ban on the harmful fossil fuel extraction process. That’s not entirely accurate, however. Jill Stein, a Green Party candidate, announced her support for a national ban on fracking more than a year ago.
This move widens the divide between Sanders and the other leading Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton. Clinton’s position on fracking has wiggled over the years, which Sanders has criticized, and she was months into her presidential campaign before she spoke out against the Keystone XL pipeline project. Most recently, she has said she would limit fracking but hasn’t specified what that would entail. In the past, she has advocated for expansion of fracking activities in other countries, so many are concerned about her true feelings.