The timing of the transition is difficult to determine, also because the energy industry has changed rapidly in recent years. The United States was not importing more and more oil and natural gas until 15 years ago when hydraulic fracture suddenly flooded both fuels and the United States became a large exporter.

Now electric cars are becoming increasingly popular and the cost of wind and solar energy is falling rapidly. Coal, which was the dominant fuel at the beginning of the century, is declining sharply, losing to natural gas and renewables.

“The fact that oil and gas make up 70 percent of the world’s energy means that there is no instant you can change that,” said Jon Olson, chairman of the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. “If we don’t manage the transition really well, we could face energy shortages and all kinds of disasters.”

That leaves the ongoing politics of oil and gas in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas that the Democrats would like to win, but where tens of thousands of jobs are directly or indirectly related to fossil fuel production or processing. A facility being built by Royal Dutch Shell in western Pennsylvania to make plastics from a natural gas by-product provides construction jobs to thousands of workers.

After listening to the debate, Mike Belding, chairman of the Greene County Commission in western Pennsylvania, said he was concerned about the economic consequences of a Biden presidency.

“Regionally, coal, natural gas and oil have been an economic and labor industry for the past century,” he said in an email. “Newly developed technologies such as the operation of fracking and cracker plants have great potential to propel our economies for the next century.”

However, the growth in oil and gas exploration in recent years has also angered some Pennsylvania voters who said it was not an economic boon for many residents and criticized the industry’s environmental footprint.


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