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Top Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren both call for a ban on fracking. This is the controversial technology that has helped create a major oil and gas boom, which President Trump often brags about on the campaign trail. As voters in New Hampshire head to the polls today, NPR's Jeff Brady took a look at the debate over this divisive issue.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Here's a message Bernie Sanders was delivering even back during the 2016 campaign.
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BERNIE SANDERS: We have got to put an end to fracking.
BRADY: That position is one reason Olivia Freiwald was recently at the University of New Hampshire holding a clipboard and stopping students.
OLIVIA FREIWALD: Do you care about climate change?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Oh, I do. But I'm late.
BRADY: She's a volunteer with the New Hampshire Youth Movement and the Sunrise Movement, which has endorsed Sanders.
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BRADY: As students scramble to class, I ask Freiwald about concerns that an anti-fracking candidate could alienate moderate voters in the general election. She says she gets that question a lot.
FREIWALD: Especially from people in my parents' generation - I just hear them being scared. And I hear them not knowing the full scale of the crisis we're facing.
BRADY: Scientists warn that carbon emissions must be reduced quickly to avoid the worst effects of climate change. For Freiwald and fellow activists, the solution is a complete transition from fossil fuels. The oil industry has taken notice.
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UNIDENTIFIED VOICE ACTOR: We hear the noise - the energy debate, the pundits, the chatter...
BRADY: This American Petroleum Institute TV ad shows a millennial-aged man at a diner watching protesters in the street. Then, it argues the oil and gas industry is part of the climate change solution.
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UNIDENTIFIED VOICE ACTOR: And thanks to natural gas, the U.S. is leading the way in reducing emissions.
BRADY: That's true in the power sector, where natural gas is replacing carbon-intensive coal. Fracking has made gas cheap and plentiful. Marty Durbin with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Energy Institute says banning fracking would interrupt that progress and cost jobs.
MARTY DURBIN: The first five years or so, you're going to lose 19 million jobs around the country.
BRADY: That's based on a Chamber study that predicts job losses well beyond oil and gas. Fracking ban supporters, though, imagine a much different future with a big increase in renewable energy jobs. Durbin and others in the oil industry aren't trying to change activists' minds. Instead, they're focused on moderate and swing voters, who could decide the next election in a closely divided country.
DURBIN: The middle of the electorate understands our need for energy itself - for it to be affordable, for it to be reliable and for it to be clean.
BRADY: But there's a problem getting that message to moderate and swing voters now. Pollsters say they aren't really thinking about a candidate's climate change or energy policies. Meeta Patel in suburban Philadelphia is a good example. Right now, she's undecided.
MEETA PATEL: I want to make sure who is the other candidate that I'm comparing Trump against.
BRADY: Patel voted for Trump in 2016 and Barack Obama before that. Asked about how a candidate's views on fracking will affect her choice, Patel says she's thinking more about the cost of health insurance now.
PATEL: That's the first thing - because that does affect a lot more people. Like, energy and everything, it's going, yes. But everyday life is affected by health.
BRADY: But in Pennsylvania, natural gas is big business. And Trump won the state by less than a percentage point in 2016. Democratic leaders warn a nominee that vows to ban fracking could lead to another Trump win this November.
Jeff Brady, NPR News.
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