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Hickenlooper apologizes to enviros over pro-fracking ad

hickenlooper session

DENVER – Gov. John Hickenlooper Thursday looked to explain his decision to celebrate fracking in a radio ad on behalf of the oil and gas industry, and to apologize to environmental groups who were upset by it.

“Maybe we should have talked to the environmental groups before we did the ad,” Hickenlooper told FOX31 Denver during an exclusive interview at the Capitol.

Hickenlooper explained that the ad was meant to celebrate the new rule, agreed to last year by both the oil and gas industry and environmental groups, that forces companies to disclose more of the chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, a process in which a water-sand-chemical mix is shot deep beneath the ground to loosen mineral reserves for extraction.

“The oil and gas industry asked if we’d do some sort of an ad celebrating this compromise,” Hickenlooper said. “It wasn’t about celebrating oil and gas, it was celebrating this compromise. And we said sure.

What we should have done is reached out to the environmental community and asked if they were okay with the language. A few tweaks here and there and I think they would have been fine. Certainly, they would have appreciated being asked in advance.

“So I take that. That’s my fault.”

In a letter sent to Hickenlooper earlier this week, 13 environmental groups also expressed dismay over Hickenlooper’s statement in the ad that Colorado has “not had one instance of groundwater contamination associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing” since the state’s last overhaul of oil and gas rules back in 2008.

When pressed Thursday, Hickenlooper, a former geologist, refused to go back on that assertion.

“There have been a few spills,” Hickenlooper told FOX31 Denver. “And any spill of frack fluid, when we find it, we make them clean it up, and we fine them — and we’re increasing the fines. That should never happen.

“But there are no examples of fracking, frack fluids getting into groundwater in Colorado, from the actual fracking — when you’re drilling the well and doing the immediate frack.”

Hickenlooper, who has highlighted his pro-fracking position as something that cuts against the Democratic grain and makes it unlikely for him to be a 2016 Democratic presidential contender, is not afraid of touting his support for the state’s oil and gas industry — which was became a serious adversary to his predecessor, Gov. Bill Ritter, during a contentious rulemaking process in 2008.

But Hickenlooper’s decision Wednesday to sign an executive order forming a task force to settle issues of local and state control over fracking underlines his trademark, consensus-oriented approach.

“Once one county wants their own regulations, every county’s going to want their own regulations, and that’s going to force the oil and gas industry out of Colorado,” Hickenlooper said.

“That’s bad for the whole state. Oil and gas not only creates jobs, it creates severance taxes, and we all drive cars.”

Hickenlooper admits that the executive order was a way to avoid a more bitter partisan fight at the Capitol, where some lawmakers had been considering running legislation to assert that state rules and regulations preempt local communities that have put fracking moratoriums in place.

“There were several people that were looking at running strong bills around preemption, making sure counties couldn’t have any voice in the rulemaking,” Hickenlooper said. “And we thought before we get into a real divisive battle with two pitched camps, lets try and find a compromise and make sure we all have all the facts and that we can try to get to a consensus.”