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Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios in Washington, March 15, 2020. (AP/Evan Vucci) Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios in Washington, March 15, 2020. (AP/Evan Vucci)

Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios in Washington, March 15, 2020. (AP/Evan Vucci)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher March 20, 2020

In debate, Joe Biden said no more oil drilling and no new fracking, didn’t say shutdowns

If Your Time is short

  • In a CNN debate, Biden said no more oil drilling.

  • For natural gas, he promised to allow no new fracking.

  • His stated campaign position is to ban “new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters.”

In what was likely the first-ever presidential debate that observed social distancing, in light of the coronavirus crisis, did Joe Biden go extreme?

"America you better pay attention to what's being said!" warned a post on Facebook on March 15, 2020, the same night of the Democratic debate on CNN. 

"Joe Biden just announced on CNN he will completely shut down drilling for oil and natural gas on day one of his administration."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

In the one-on-one debate, Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders used the term "day one" seven times, according to a transcript

Biden, however, did not use it once. 

Biden was speaking quickly during the debate and his words were not as precise as they have been at other times. But when we reached out to his campaign, a spokesperson clarified Biden’s intent.  

Here’s exactly what Biden said on oil drilling:

"Number one, no more subsidies for fossil fuel industry. No more drilling on federal lands. No more drilling, including offshore. No ability for the oil industry to continue to drill, period, ends, number one."

Featured Fact-check

Taken literally, the former vice president’s debate comments could be read to mean that he would end oil drilling. Or it could mean that he would not allow any new drilling, which is how the Biden campaign described the candidate’s position.  

Biden’s campaign pointed us to the policy on Biden’s campaign website of "banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters." It says nothing about drilling on private land.

On fracking, the process of blasting pressurized water, sand and chemicals into shale rock miles underground to extract natural gas, Biden said: "No more — no new fracking."

Moments later, he repeated "no more drilling on federal lands."

A Biden campaign spokesman clarified afterward that Biden wouldn’t ban fracking — he was referring only to his stated policy to ban new permits for oil and gas drilling on federal land and offshore, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Our ruling

A Facebook post says Biden "just announced on CNN he will completely shut down drilling for oil and natural gas on day one of his administration."

In a CNN debate, Biden said "no more drilling" for oil. Taken literally, that could be interpreted to mean he supports ending oil drilling. But he did not use the words "shut down" and his stated position has been to ban new oil drilling on federal lands and water, not end ongoing work.

Biden was more clear in his debate statements regarding natural gas, saying he would not allow any new fracking. 

He did not say he would take either step on day one as president. 

For a statement that contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, our rating is Mostly False.

Our Sources

Facebook, post, March 15, 2020 

Interview, Joe Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates, March 19, 2020

Rev.com, transcript of CNN debate, March 15, 2020

CNN, transcript of CNN debate, March 15, 2020

Wall Street Journal, "Biden Aims for Tricky Balance on Fracking," March 16, 2020

YouTube, Washington Free Beacon clip of Joe Biden on oil drilling, March 15, 2020

YouTube, CNN clip of Joe Biden fracking comment (9:40), March 15, 2020

JoeBiden.com, "Climate," accessed March 19, 2020

Washington Post Fact Checker, "Fact-checking the Biden fracking fracas," March 19, 2020

Houston Chronicle, "Did Joe Biden just pledge to ban fracking in debate against Bernie Sanders?" March 16, 2020

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More by Tom Kertscher

In debate, Joe Biden said no more oil drilling and no new fracking, didn’t say shutdowns

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