Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez Lead First-Ever Bill to Ban Fracking Nationwide

WASHINGTON, January 31 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), together with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.), unveiled the first-ever federal bill to phase out fracking nationwide in the United States. 

 The Ban Fracking Act would institute an immediate federal ban on all new federal permits for fracking-related infrastructure and a ban on fracking within 2,500 feet of homes and schools by 2021. Then, starting in 2025, it would ban fracking nationwide. The legislation also initiates a just transition for the working families in the fracking industry. The bill directs the Department of Labor to partner with other federal agencies and stakeholders, including representatives of organized labor, to develop a plan to prioritize the placement of fossil fuel workers into good-paying jobs in the communities in which they live as the United States moves quickly to an energy system based on sustainable energy and energy efficiency. 

 The bill highlights the dangers of fracking to public health, workers and communities, and averting climate change, and commissions a nationwide Environmental Protection Agency survey of fracked oil and natural gas wells.

“We must realize that workers in the fracking fields are not the enemy, coal miners are not the enemy, and oil rig workers are not the enemy. Climate change is the enemy. As we transition to 100% renewable energy, we must come together to ensure a just transition for all fossil fuel workers,” said Sanders. “Fracking is a danger to our water supply. It’s a danger to the air we breathe, it has resulted in more earthquakes, and it’s highly explosive. To top it all off, it’s contributing to climate change. If we are serious about clean air and drinking water, if we are serious about combating climate change, the only safe and sane way to move forward is to ban fracking nationwide.”

“Fracking has sacrificed the health of communities across America and led to massive releases of potent greenhouse gas pollution,” said Merkley. “From the formation of dangerous cancer clusters, to poisoned well water and earthquakes, to methane leaks big enough to be seen from outer space, fracking poses unacceptable risks to our health while accelerating climate chaos. Congress needs to stand up for the health of families, and pave the way to a sustainable future for our children and our children’s children by banning this dangerous practice.”

“The science is clear: fracking is a leading contributor to our climate emergency. It is destroying our land. It is destroying our water and it is wreaking havoc on our communities' health,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “We must do our job to protect our future from the harms caused by the fracking industry and its methane emissions. I am proud to introduce the Fracking Ban Act with Senator Sanders, Senator Merkley, and Congressman Soto to immediately ban hydraulic fracking on and off shore.”

“We cannot deny the overwhelming scientific consensus any longer—fracking is a threat to our health, safety and environment,” said Soto. “If we want to transition from fossil fuel emissions as we work towards building a 100 percent clean economy, pulling back from fracking is a critical first step. Failure to act will only make the crisis at hand even more detrimental for future generations of Americans.” 

For years, the oil and gas industry advertised natural gas as a “bridge fuel” by hiding the dangers of fracking. Fracking is a key driver of the recent global spike in methane emissions, which are over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat. The Trump administration has propped up the industry by torpedoing EPA rules to limit methane leaks and other pollution from fracking. 

The United States is on track to extract enough new oil and gas by 2050 to make it virtually impossible to avoid a rise in temperature of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, the threshold at which scientists believe the planet could face irreversible and catastrophic changes to public health, livelihoods, quality of life, food security, water supplies, human security, and economic growth.

According to a new report from Food & Water Action, “Increasing natural gas production simply continues a never-ending ‘bridge,’ displaces clean, renewable energy, and locks in dirty fossil fuel infrastructure for decades. As coal plants close slightly earlier than planned, they are replaced with gas plants that typically have lifespans of 40 to 50 years.”

Low-income communities, communities of color, and indigenous communities are disproportionately exposed to pollution from fracking. More than 1 million African Americans live within a half-mile of oil and natural gas wells and facilities, and children in these communities experience 138,000 additional asthma attacks and 101,000 lost school days each year due to ozone increases from natural gas emissions. These frontline communities will also be hit hardest by the impacts of climate change. 

“Hundreds of scientific studies and countless personal accounts from families, workers and communities irrevocably harmed all point to one clear conclusion: Fracking poses inherent and unacceptable risks to clean air and water, public health, and climate stability,” said Mitch Jones, Policy Director at Food & Water Action. “We’re thrilled that Senator Sanders has introduced a bill to ban fracking and the dangerous infrastructure that enables it once and for all.”

“The facts are clear: Fracking and the gas and oil it produces are a direct threat to our health, our communities, and our water while significantly contributing to the climate crisis. It’s past time the government puts the people before corporate polluters. The Sierra Club endorses Senator Sanders’ proposed legislation and looks forward to turning it into a reality,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club.

Climate Justice Alliance Steering Committee Co-Chair and UPROSE Executive Director, Elizabeth Yeampierre, based in New York explained, “When Governor Cuomo banned fracking, he cited public health as the main reason. But, New York continues to import and utilize fracked gas from neighboring Pennsylvania while constructing harmful pipelines that leak methane and put our communities at risk. Senator Sanders’ bill, if passed, would complete the work of a full and complete fracking ban in New York and everywhere else this extractive practice continues to harm frontline communities.”

“Oil CEOs don’t have to live next to active fracking wells, but millions of Black, Brown, and working-class people do,” said John Noël, Senior Climate Campaigner, Greenpeace USA. “They’re the ones who bear the brunt of the oil and gas industry’s toxic pollution and blatant disregard for human health. Fracking is at the center of the industry’s reckless and self-serving growth strategy, but it’s time to put an end to corporate profit at the expense of people and the planet. This bill does just that, and it affirms that the federal government must protect workers and families who will be impacted by the inevitable transition away from fossil fuels. No one should be left behind.”

“Fracking is a Big Oil boondoggle that threatens our health, communities and climate. Senator Sanders has a vision to transition off fossil fuels and create jobs and growth in clean, renewable energy. Our Data for Progress research shows the American public is behind him,” said Julian Noisecat, Vice President of Policy and Strategy, Data for Progress.

“Putting a stop to fracking is the first step toward a greener future,” said Lukas Ross, senior policy analysist at Friends of the Earth. “We thank Sen. Sanders for his work to stop the extraction of fossil fuels and his fight against climate change. A Green New Deal must prioritize ambitious proposals like these.”

Natalie Mebane, Associate Director of Policy at 350.org said, “Fracking is dangerous for our health, our water, our land and climate. We can no longer ignore the dangerous earthquakes caused by wastewater injection or the contaminated groundwater that is poisoning families. We can’t just regulate fracking, we must ban it outright. Senator Sanders’ bill names the problem and provides the only solution. In order to avoid the worst of the climate crisis, we must rapidly transition off of fossil fuels, and end fracking and the dangerous pipelines that come with it. 350 Action is proud to support the Fracking Ban Act.”

“This legislation is a critical piece of the climate puzzle — stopping the rapid expansion of fracking for oil and gas that's wrecking the climate and running roughshod over communities," said Collin Rees, Senior Campaigner at Oil Change International. "Stopping reckless practices like fracking is a key component of any comprehensive climate approach — we need to plan a careful phase-out of fossil fuel production while investing heavily in a just and equitable transition for the workers and communities impacted.”

“Sen. Sanders’ fracking ban bill is desperately needed if we’re going to stop the climate crisis,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “This is the big, bold action that’s required so future generations can have a livable planet.”

“The fracking industry operates with little to no regulation across this country and poisons people in their backyards, destroying their health, property value and the environment on a large scale,” said Josh Fox, Oscar-nominated filmmaker and activist. “Fracking causes both local and regional health crises and is now the fastest growing contributor to global climate emissions. We need to ban fracking swiftly and decisively and move away from fossil fuels altogether. Fracking represents the largest expansion of fossil fuels at this moment, with new pipelines, power plants and other infrastructure being proposed across the country. We need to transform our economy away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy immediately. In state after state, we have seen that regulatory systems cannot keep up with the wholesale disaster of fracking, the only way to keep people safe from these rapacious destructive polluting fossil fuel corporations is to ban fracking at the federal level,” 

Mark Ruffalo, actor and advocate, said, “Today once again Sen. Sanders and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez are standing up for the people of this country over the special interests of the oil and gas industry by introducing a national ban on fracking. The Ban Fracking Act will protect our nation’s drinking water, air, public health and help address climate change. There are now over 17 million Americans who live within a mile of an oil and gas well and many more who are negatively affected directly and indirectly, including the workers who are exposed to toxic chemicals and radiation. Because there is no way to safely regulate fracking, states including New York, Vermont, Maryland and Washington and municipalities across this country have banned fracking. Now Congress must follow their lead and make this bill the law of the land.”

More than 570 national, regional, and local grassroots groups siupport the legislation, including Food & Water Action and Food & Water Watch, Climate Justice Alliance, Democracy for America, Indigenous Environmental Network, MoveOn, People's Action, Progressive Democrats of America, Sierra Club, Sunrise Movement and WE ACT for Environmental Justice.

Read the bill text here.

Read a section-by-section overview here.