2013′s Top Ten #5: Hickenlooper’s Fracking Follies

In just a few short years, fracking has gone from a relatively obscure term to one of the more explosive (no pun intended) issues in Colorado politics. In November, voters in four Colorado cities — Boulder, Broomfield, Lafayette and Fort Collins — approved unenforceable bans on fracking by wide margins (except in Broomfield, where the outcome was much closer). Voters approved the fracking bans despite nearly $1 million spent by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association in a fruitless effort to sway the outcome, leaving the Gov. John Hickenlooper and the State of Colorado in the unenviable position of considering legal action against those cities

Frackenlooper

Fracking isn’t falling on me…right?

Because of the frequency of new nearby wells and increasing news about harmful air pollution and leaking wells, it's not difficult to understand why so many residents are concerned. Local communities have organized in rapid fashion, with residents in at least one city (Erie) raising enough money to hire someone to work on fracking on a grassroots level. Think about that: When was the last time you remember any issue creating so much intense community interest that a group of concerned citizens quickly raised enough money to hire someone?

When it comes to the health and safety of your family, issues like mineral rights and stupid scare tactics about natural gas wells running dry just can't get any traction among the local populace. And fracking is beginning to creep into other areas of concern; if the presence of fracking wells starts to really disrupt the local real estate market, like it has in Pennsylvania, all the talk about economic impacts of oil and gas drilling will need to include the significant economic downsides as well.

All of which makes it so baffling to see the continued obstinance from Gov. Hickenlooper in regards to fracking. Hickenlooper has long aligned himself on the side of oil and gas developers and mineral rights holders, using his background as a geologist to imply that he has a full understanding of the issue on all sides. But for someone who has shown enough political savvy to win elections for Denver Mayor and Governor, Hick has been strangely tone deaf on the real concerns of people living near fracking wells. Consider his response to the election results in November, via the Colorado Independent:

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper says he understands citizen concerns about neighborhood gas drilling but maintains that passing local laws restricting the activity is the wrong way to address the problem.

“The fracking ban votes reflect the genuine anxiety and concern of having an industrial process close to neighborhoods,” Hickenlooper said in an email to the Independent. “Yet local fracking bans essentially deprive people of their legal rights to access the property they own. Our state Constitution protects these rights.

“A framework exists for local communities to work collaboratively with state regulators and the energy industry. We all share the same desire of keeping communities safe.

“These bans may or may not result in new legal challenges from mineral rights holders, individual companies or others. No matter what happens we won’t stop working with local governments and supporting regulations that can be a national model for protecting public health and safety.”

- See more at: http://coloradopols.com/diary/51676/hickenloooper-responds-poorly-to-local-fracking-ban-wins#sthash.atNGaY0c.dpuf

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper says he understands citizen concerns about neighborhood gas drilling but maintains that passing local laws restricting the activity is the wrong way to address the problem.

“The fracking ban votes reflect the genuine anxiety and concern of having an industrial process close to neighborhoods,” Hickenlooper said in an email to the Independent. “Yet local fracking bans essentially deprive people of their legal rights to access the property they own. Our state Constitution protects these rights.

“A framework exists for local communities to work collaboratively with state regulators and the energy industry. We all share the same desire of keeping communities safe.

“These bans may or may not result in new legal challenges from mineral rights holders, individual companies or others. No matter what happens we won’t stop working with local governments and supporting regulations that can be a national model for protecting public health and safety.”

Instead of focusing on trying to reassure local residents that he truly understands their concerns, Hick makes a throwaway "I feel your pain" comment before delving immediately into the mineral rights and states' rights arguments. His response to four heavily-populated communities voting to approve a ban on fracking amounted to: Yeah, well, you're wrong.

Hickenlooper's complete cluelessness on fracking was never more clear than during a "debate" on the issue with Boulder County Commisser Elise Jones back in April. As we wrote at the time, the formerly-reliable "Hick Schtick" was failing him miserably:

In today's fracking "debate" at the University of Denver, Hickenlooper tried several times to duck tough questions with his folksy brewer dance, but instead of getting him out of a jam, it just made him look, well, stupid. It wasn't charming. It wasn't cute. But he kept pushing it, all the way up until the end of the debate, when he went one step too far in a poor attempt at a joke that ended up sounding more like an insult. Hickenlooper had been late to the event because of a scheduling issue, and near the end of the debate, the moderator asked if he still had time in his schedule for another question. Hickenlooper shifted and smirked and joked that he didn't know anything about his own schedule, saying he hadn't realized until the night before that the fracking debate was scheduled for Noon. You could tell that he was trying to make some kind of joke about how frazzled and busy he is, but it came off sounding like he just didn't care about the event and didn't want to be there. It was uncomfortable to watch.

The finale wasn't the only time the Hick Schtick failed to save him. On a question about legal issues relating to mineral and land rights holders, Hickenlooper stammered for awhile about how he was a brewer, and not a lawyer, and then he looked down at his notes; when he looked back up, he started talking about an apparently-related court case, the name of which he fumbled, with the effect being that he looked like someone who hadn't bothered to study his notes even though the answer was at his fingertips. He didn't look folksy and agreeable — he looked disorganized and disinterested.

Hickenlooper has always coveted the image of a regular guy who just wants to bring everybody together to hash out a solution, but it takes more than tired jokes to craft effective public policy — even on issues where you think you have some expertise. Hickenlooper was once a geologist, and he carries that background with him to the fracking debate; but in wrapping himself up in his geologist cape, he has misunderstood the issue. This isn't a debate about oil and gas — when drilling is happening in residential neighborhoods and near public schools, the issue is about people. About families and children. He's missing that, somehow, and in his frustration he turns back to the schtick for cover.

Successful politicians win friends and votes by connecting with people — or pretending to connect with people — on a level that makes them feel like they are fighting side-by-side for the same ideals. But Hickenlooper barely gives lip service to the very-real worries of communities affected by fracking, and his indifference raises eyebrows among other voters around the state who wonder whether he'll stand with them on another issue should the time come.

None of this is to say that Hickenlooper will lose his bid for re-election because of fracking, but mostly because there isn't a Republican candidate with a real chance at beating him. If Republicans had a better candidate, and one who could at least pretend to be looking for solutions on fracking, then Hick would be in serious trouble. Hick's biggest threat in 2014 isn't his opponents — it's the possibility that he might lose a sizable number of voters in reliably-Democratic areas like Denver and Boulder. There may be enough voters out there who would support Hick's opponent on the fracking issue alone, but not as long as all of the Republican candidates take basically the same position as the Governor.

It's been a strange run in 2013 for the man who once drank fracking fluid to prove that it was safe, skipping over the real concerns about fracking that have more to do with air quality and leaks than the relatively small amounts of chemicals injected into wells. It seems unlikely, nevertheless, that fracking will play a major role in the outcome of the 2014 gubernatorial election — but that might be the last time this proves true. 

 

 

6 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Duke CoxDuke Cox says:

    the man who once drank fracking fluid

    Good article except for one little clarification. Hick didn't drink real fracking fluid…he drank a product the industry claims is fracking fluid, even though NO ONE has ever used it to frack a well…it has only been used to fool the public.

     

  2. ModeratusModeratus says:

    Yawn. Dems eat own. News at 11.

    • BlueCat says:

      Failure to walk in lockstep isn't eating one's own. The GOTP is the champion there, having driven everyone not willing to raise their hand to swear they don't accept the science of evolution or a woman's right to autonomy over her health decisions out of the GOTP borg.

      And do you even live here? The late news is at 11PM on the coast.  You know, the parts of the US that you guys love to claim is not the "real' America? In the heartland, news is at 10PM on the major network affiliates except for Fox where it's on at 9PM.  Aren't decent Christian right heartlanders supposed to be in bed by 11, after tucking in their home schooled kids and praying for the death of their enemies?wink

  3. mamajama55mamajama55 says:

    Bluecat: "Out of the GOTP Borg". Phrase of the day. I'm hereby stealing it.

  4. mamajama55mamajama55 says:

    Broomfield County finds a box of unopened ballots, Marilyn Marks says, "See! HB1303 strikes again! Only election laws which I approve may pass!"

    This could impact the Broomfield recount. I found this link on, of all places, Peter Boyles' page.

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