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• Ryan, as a 2020 presidential candidate, spoke about regulating fracking and even halting it if the industry cannot keep local residents safe. He said he’d “absolutely” consider banning fracking on federal lands and voted to stop the processing of fracking applications for drilling sites off California’s coast.
• However, Ryan’s full record of statements and policies show his focus has been on leveraging natural gas as a transitional fuel and a source of revenue and jobs for Ohio, while reducing environmental risks.
The candidates in one of the nation’s hottest midterm races — the contest for an open U.S. Senate seat in Ohio — came out swinging in an Oct. 10 debate, with Republican J.D. Vance and Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan accusing each other of being dishonest.
Here, we’ll examine an exchange involving Ryan’s stance on natural gas production. It’s an issue of importance to Ohio, which ranks as the nation’s sixth-biggest producer of natural gas.
Vance raised energy policy in the debate’s opening exchange, saying that Democrats have "gone to war" against the domestic energy sector. Ryan countered by citing provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act, which President Joe Biden signed Aug. 16, that Ryan said go "all in on natural gas."
He continued, "I’ve been a natural gas proponent since I’ve been in Congress. And we have to get this right. We need to increase our production of natural gas. I support streamlining the permitting process around natural gas so we can get it around the country, lower costs for businesses, and ship it to Europe to stick our finger in Vladimir Putin’s eye."
Vance, however, wasn’t buying Ryan’s claim that he’s championed natural gas production.
Vance said, "Tim Ryan just told a big fib. He said he supported Ohio’s natural gas industry and he’s always done so. And yet Tim Ryan when he ran for president, two years ago, you supported banning fracking both on public lands and generally speaking."
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, injects water, chemicals and sand at ultrahigh pressure to crack open rock layers and release trapped natural gas.
The method has enabled the United States to become a world leader in natural gas production, but it has also caused controversy among environmentalists and local residents’ groups, who argue its chemicals can pollute the environment and seep into water supplies. Environmentalists also worry that fracking can trigger earthquakes.
Responding to Vance, Ryan countered, "You could go back my entire career. We have two natural gas power plants in my congressional district that I helped us get. And the union that works in the natural gas industry endorsed me. Do you think they’re going to endorse me if I’m for banning fracking? It’s just not true."
So what’s going on here? We found that both sides are engaging in some spin.
Ryan expressed an openness to banning fracking in 2019, when he was running a short-lived campaign for president.
The comment came during a joint forum on climate change with another longshot primary candidate, then-Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, in the early primary state of New Hampshire.
During a question-and-answer session, an audience member introduced herself as a participant in a local group that was fighting a pipeline for fracked natural gas. She asked, "If elected, would you consider banning fracking on federal lands?"
Ryan responded, "Absolutely. Absolutely. On federal lands. I see the natural gas piece as a transition for us," from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
After the debate, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, noted that Ryan in 2017 joined most Democrats in supporting an amendment to an appropriations bill to bar the spending of federal funds on the processing of drilling permits applications for fracking in the Pacific Outer Continental Shelf. The amendment did not address permits on nonfederal lands.
Vance’s campaign pointed PolitiFact to comments Ryan made to The Washington Post about regulating fracking to prevent environmental damage. "If the industry cannot rapidly innovate on these issues, I believe the federal government would need to step in and halt fracking operations," Ryan said in 2020.
Ryan’s statement during the 2019 forum came in response to a question about banning fracking on federal lands only. The questioner did not ask Ryan about the possibility of banning fracking everywhere, and asked only whether he’d "consider" the move.
The 2017 amendment Ryan supported would have paused fracking on the Pacific Outer Continental Shelf, in sensitive environmental waters off California, thousands of miles from Ohio and any land-based fracking operations there.
Ryan’s 2020 comments to the Post were focused on ensuring that local households aren’t hurt by fracking. Ryan told the Post that despite his environmental concerns, fracking "has provided enormous economic benefits and moved the U.S. towards energy independence."
Ryan also told the Post the industry needed more oversight and regulation, "especially in regard to its use and disposal of water, as well as methane leaks. ... If the industry cannot rapidly innovate on these issues, I believe the federal government would need to step in and halt fracking operations."
This line of argument — that fracking is economically valuable but needs to be regulated for its environmental risks — is bolstered by legislation Ryan co-sponsored in 2018, the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals, or FRAC, Act.
The measure, which did not pass, required disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking fluids and removed the oil and gas industry's exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act. This would allow the industry to continue operating, but in a more regulated manner. Ryan’s support for it complicates Vance’s argument that he wants to simply ban fracking.
Ryan has also spoken favorably about fracking during his Senate campaign. In April 2022, Ryan praised the local natural gas extraction economy in eastern Ohio, which fracking enabled.
"This is a hell of an opportunity for eastern Ohio to sell natural gas to Eastern Europe and knock Vladimir Putin’s legs out from under him," Ryan said. "This needs to be a key part of our global strategy, and it’s about jobs, you know, good family wages here, good union jobs here in eastern Ohio. And I’m all for it and I’ll do anything I can to help with this project and any other project we can establish here."
Vance said that Ryan, "when he ran for president, two years ago ... supported banning fracking both on public lands and generally speaking."
Ryan said during a 2019 event that he would "absolutely" consider banning fracking on federal lands. He also voted to stop the processing of fracking applications for drilling sites off the California coast in environmentally sensitive water. Ryan told The Washington Post that if the fracking industry cannot keep local residents safe, the federal government might need to "halt" fracking operations.
However, Ryan’s full record of statements and policies on fracking is more nuanced than Vance suggests. Ryan’s focus has been on leveraging natural gas as a transitional fuel and a source of revenue and jobs for Ohio. He’s said he supports fracking as long as the industry keeps the environmental risks in check.
The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context, so we rate it Half True.
Ohio Senate debate, Oct. 10, 2022
Republican National Committee, tweet, Oct. 10, 2022
C-SPAN, "Climate Forum With John Delaney and Tim Ryan," Aug/ 22, 2019
Congress.gov, House amendment 358, 115th Congress (2017-18)
House roll call vote 483, Sept. 8, 2017
National Republican Senatorial Committee, "Tim Ryan vs Tim Ryan: Energy," Oct. 10, 2022
Office of Tim Ryan, "Congressman Tim Ryan Applauds $1.3 Billion Financing Deal For New Natural Gas Facility," Aug. 24, 2018
Energy Information Administration, "Natural gas explained: Where our natural gas comes from," accessed Oct. 11, 2022
The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register, "Tim Ryan Touts Natural Gas on Campaign Trail in Belmont County," April 14, 2022
The Washington Post, "Where 2020 Democrats stand on climate change," accessed Oct. 11, 2022
Email interview with Izzi Levy, spokesperson for Tim Ryan, Oct. 11, 2022
Email interview with Luke Schroeder, spokesperson for J.D. Vance, Oct. 11, 2022
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