(Bloomberg) – During a town hall meeting Thursday, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden reassured slate producers that he would not ban fracking if elected. Then, in practically the same breath, he touted his $ 2 trillion clean energy plan, which aims to get natural gas off the electricity mix within 15 years. The ex-vice president’s efforts to walk a tightrope on gas reflect the precarious place fossil fuel has in the economy. Right now it’s an integral part of American life. Biden was careful not to make an enemy of industry, especially in the main battlefield state of Pennsylvania, which is home to the largest US shale gas field. His policies could even support the gas market in the short term. In the long run, however, the fuel could prove economically and environmentally unsustainable in the power sector, a key market for producers. Biden’s climate plan would only accelerate this result, as massive investments in wind, solar and battery storage would give these energy sources a head start. And his goal of a climate-neutral power grid would significantly reduce, if not destroy, the share of gas in the cake in favor of cheaper, cleaner renewable energies. “Decarbonization is not a debate – it is a death sentence on fossil fuels,” said Kevin Book, CEO of ClearView Energy Partners. “It means that a resource goes offline. That is the inevitable consequence. “Like coal a decade ago, gas is facing economic headwinds. Although it is still the country’s dominant fuel source, it is less competitive with renewable energy than it used to be. According to BloombergNEF, solar and wind are cheaper than gas power in two thirds of the world. In the US, top wind projects are already producing electricity for less than natural gas, and renewables are expected to be cheaper on average than fossil fuels by 2030, BNEF said in an April report. The right combination of federal measures could easily squeeze gas out of the electricity mix by 2035 or sooner: “This transition will be faster than expected, just as the transition to coal has been faster than expected,” said John Coequyt, director of climate policy for the Sierra Club . Of course, Gas could take advantage of a Biden presidency in the short term. Although his proposal to limit drilling in states could curb production, tighter supplies could raise prices and potentially make gas exports more profitable. Similarly, a thaw in US-China relations could give exporters better access to an important world market. However, higher prices would have the opposite effect in the energy sector, where costs are crucial. According to forecasts by the Energy Information Administration, gas-fired electricity generation is expected to fall 5.7% this winter compared to last year just because gas prices are higher this season. And this despite forecasts for a colder winter, which would increase the demand for electricity. The economy put gas in roughly a similar position to coal in the years leading up to President Barack Obama’s inauguration. In the case of coal, Obama accelerated his decline by imposing new environmental regulations that made coal-fired power plants more expensive to run – notably the 2012 mercury and air toxicity standards, which limited toxic emissions from plants, and the 2015 Clean Power Plan, which introduced the carbon emissions have been reduced. A Biden government could take a similar path and impose new – and stricter regulations – limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. It could also reintroduce, and potentially strengthen, the Obama-era rules to curb methane leaks from gas infrastructure that President Donald Trump repealed. Both have the potential to increase the cost of gas-powered electricity without banning the fuel. Most analysts agree that Biden would not explicitly pursue the gas industry the way Obama attacked the coal sector. Instead, Biden’s clean energy policy would make it difficult for gas to compete with wind, solar and other renewable energies. “You may be able to get guidelines in place that give them at least a theoretical chance of survival, even if they do. It’s much harder for them to survive,” said David Spence, professor in the University of Texas law school. There is currently no great pressure to shut down the gas systems that are already in operation. “Existing gas facilities will play a role for a while,” said Mark Dyson, director at the Rocky Mountain Institute. “They keep the lights on while we build as much wind and sun as possible.” And Biden’s proposal leaves the door open so that utilities can continue to use gas systems equipped with CO2 capture systems that capture emissions, said Jonathan Elkind. Biden said Thursday at Columbia University City Hall, stressing the importance of “new technologies” , including carbon capture, to achieve a carbon-free electricity sector while still using natural gas. Nonetheless, if the price of renewable energy continues to drop, energy providers may not want to make this type of investment. “Much of the path to net zero for electricity by 2035 will come from energy efficiency gains, much from renewables and so on will eventually displace fossil fuels,” said Katie Bays, an analyst at Sandhill Strategy in Washington. Local jurisdictions are already moving away from gas to pursue their own climate targets. Cities across California have decided to ban the consumption of natural gas in homes, while New York blocked a proposed $ 1 billion pipeline under Governor Andrew Cuomo. Opposition from environmental groups even led Dominion Energy Inc. to abandon a large pipeline project before the bulk of its gas operations were sold in July. The energy suppliers are also preparing for a future without gas. In addition to building renewable energies, energy giants NextEra Energy Inc. and Entergy Corp. to the companies investing in gas turbines that can be converted to 100% renewable hydrogen. Still, many doubt that achieving a carbon-free power grid will be even possible in 15 years, which is a more ambitious goal than California and New York have set for themselves. Redesigning the power grid would be both costly and complicated, and analysts warn against taking the plan literally. To pay for this, Biden has proposed raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% and using stimulus funds. However, this would require congressional approval, a major challenge if Republicans keep control of the Senate. Nevertheless, the push towards decarbonisation reflected in the Biden Plan poses a real, long-term threat to natural gas as an electricity source, a major downside risk for gas demand, ”said Carlos Torres Diaz, Head of Market Research for Gas and Electricity at Rystad Energy AS in Oslo. “Even if we don’t get to zero.” You can find more articles like this at bloomberg.com. Sign up now to stay up to date with the most trusted business news source. © 2020 Bloomberg L.P.