Hydraulic fracturing is often incorrectly blamed for contaminating water with methane and thus allowing people to set their tap water on fire, but one thing fracking did help set ablaze was Hillary Clinton’s so-called “Midwestern Firewall,” particularly in Ohio and Pennsylvania, two states that were supposed to help carry her to victory. Instead, these states voted for Republican Donald Trump and were a significant reason he will occupy the White House in January.
Although many polls show energy issues were low on most voters’ priority list, survey data show the economy was the greatest issue on their minds, and hydraulic fracturing has been a major driver of economic growth in Ohio and Pennsylvania, with tens of thousands of jobs directly related to hydraulic fracturing added in recent years. Additionally, access to shale gas and pipelines created 1.9 million manufacturing jobs nationwide in 2015 alone, making it an important economic issue for millions of Americans in numerous states across the country.
Far-left environmental zealots will tell you all this fracking-related economic growth came a big price: the safety and health of residents living near fracking operations and the general welfare of the environment. Well-researched studies, however, tell a very different story. For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded fracking has had no widespread or systemic impacts on groundwater.
Clinton and Trump laid out starkly different visions for the future of oil and gas development, which likely impacted the results on election night. Trump offered broad support for developing coal, natural gas, and oil. Clinton vowed to greatly restrict these energy industries. In one Democratic Party primary debate with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Clinton stated she would increase regulations on fracking, saying, “By the time we get through all my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place.”
Judging by how successful Trump was in the Midwest and in many Western states, it appears Clinton’s comments didn’t go unnoticed.
Pennsylvania may have been the biggest surprise of the evening, as the state had not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1992. Fracking for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale has turned the Keystone State into the second-largest natural gas producing state in the country, behind only Texas. This surge in gas drilling has led to a rebirth in high-paying blue-collar jobs; there are now 33,000 jobs directly related to fracking paying an average of $62,000 per year, mostly in rural areas. Those jobs, as most voters know, would have been put in jeopardy had Clinton won the presidency.
Thanks to hydraulic fracturing, Ohio has also experienced an economic renaissance. Oil and natural gas production in the Utica Shale greatly increased in recent years. Fracking has also brought manufacturing jobs back to quintessential “Rust Belt” cities.
For instance, in Youngstown, Ohio, hundreds of manufacturing jobs have been created, and the local pipefitters union saw full employment in 2014, partly as a result of the high demand for fracking equipment and pipelines in nearby areas. These jobs are likely a key reason why Youngstown voters defeated a sixth ballot effort to ban fracking in the city limits by double digits.
These numbers seemed to carry over to the presidential race. Exit polling indicates Trump was able to win 52 percent of the union vote in Ohio, a substantial chunk of the electorate in the state. The billionaire candidate was also able to win with 50.8 percent of the vote in Trumbull County, which has recently enjoyed an increase in drilling activity. This marked the first time a Republican has carried the county in decades.
Energy issues are often considered a low priority in the abstract, but in these two states, energy is a key part of the economy, and ultimately that is what motivated voters. Economic growth is important, but so is preserving the environment. Thankfully, hydraulic fracturing has stimulated the economy, made the United States the most energy independent it has been in decades, and, contrary to environmental radicals’ claims, the only thing it helped to set ablaze was Clinton’s chances at winning the presidency.
Isaac Orr ([email protected]) is a research fellow specializing in hydraulic fracturing at The Heartland Institute. Follow him on Twitter @thefrackingguy.