FOX 31's Eli Stokols reports:
A day after celebrating a compromise between the oil and gas industry and environmental groups on a new set of air quality rules to reduce emissions from Colorado well sites, Gov. John Hickenlooper faced new calls Tuesday for an all-out ban on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, from liberals on both coasts.
In Washington, Congressman Jared Polis, D-Boulder, blasted the state’s rules around natural gas extraction, approved last year, and touted by Hickenlooper as a national model.
“The fracking rules are overseen by an oil and gas commission that is heavily influenced by the oil and gas industry,” Polis said on the House floor.
He also said that homeowners “don’t have at their disposal the independence or the ability to enact real penalties for violations of our laws and their charge is not first and foremost to protect homeowners and families and health.”
The Denver Post's Allison Sherry also took note of the blue-on-blue exchange between Rep. Jared Polis and Gov. John Hickenlooper over Colorado's protections (or lack thereof) for homeowners from oil and gas drilling:
“[O]ur state doesn’t have any meaningful regulation to protect homeowners,” Polis said, in the floor debate on a series of energy measures. “Unfortunately the fracking rules are overseen by an oil and gas commission that is heavily influenced by the oil and gas industry. They don’t have at their disposal the independence or the ability to enact real penalties for violations of our laws and their charge is not first and foremost to protect homeowners and families and health.”
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office disagreed, pointing out Colorado’s “robust and leading-edge regulatory process for oil and gas drilling.”
“We respect the congressman representing his constituents,” said Hickenlooper’s spokesman Eric Brown. “And we understand the genuine anxiety and concern of having an inudstrial process close to neighborhoods. Yet the Colorado constitution protects the rights of people to access their property above and below ground.”
In addition to very public criticism of Colorado's oil and gas drilling rules by Polis, and by extension the Hickenlooper administration, the Denver Post's Kurtis Lee points us to a video (above) released by Americans Against Fracking, with a number of minor celebrities–we recognized the one who plays Claire on Modern Family–calling on Hickenlooper to entirely ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," in Colorado.
Perhaps most interesting about all of this, though we believe it to be coincidental, is that Hickenlooper is fresh off a round of highly favorable pro-conservation press after Monday's announcement of new air quality rules for drilling and storage. We talked earlier this month about the opportunity Gov. Hickenlooper had, after a very rough Election Day including the passage of four local measures to ban or suspend fracking, to recover some standing with the Democratic base by doing something bold with these air quality rules. The revised draft is considerably stronger than the first one, which was rejected by conservationists as inadequate.
Hickenlooper's proposal to make Colorado the first state to regulate methane emissions indeed is a very significant development, and he should get credit for it from conservationists. In addition to being a major suspected driver of climate change, methane emissions contribute heavily to the formation of ground-level ozone pollution. With Colorado oil and gas production areas frequently out of compliance with federal air quality standards for ozone, this plan may be as much about keeping the feds at bay as anything else. That shouldn't take away from the good that will be done, but it's worth noting that it wasn't exactly altruistic on the part of the industry.
And as you can see, it's just one piece of a much larger struggle over safe oil and gas production in Colorado. Between the growing calls for a total ban on fracking, which is not realistic, and the present status quo that has pushed fearful homeowners to enact local bans in direct conflict with state law, there must be a middle ground that can balance the need to produce energy with public health and environmental safety.
Hickenlooper's make-or-break political challenge as Governor is to strike that balance.