Gov. Hickenlooper tours, reportedly praises Canadian oil sands

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Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, speaking Thursday after visiting oil sands in Alberta’s Athabasca region.

DENVER — Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is back from a trip to Alberta, Canada, where he toured the Alberta oil sands and, according to a Canadian newspaper, gave the controversial project “a thumb’s up.”

These are the same oil sands that are, for environmentalists, a symbol of the dangers of unrestricted oil and gas development, especially after a January report found increased levels of cancer-causing compounds in surrounding lakes well beyond natural levels.

According to a report by the CBC, Hickenlooper told Canandians that Colorado could learn a lot about what’s going on in Alberta to extract oil from the sands with less of an impact on the environment.

“It’s not every week the oil sands gets a visit from abroad that is so favorable, especially from one of the country’s most popular governors,” noted the CBC’s report, which noted Hickenlooper’s reputation as a strong supporter of the industry.

“Hickenlooper isn’t the most surprising of oil sands allies. He famously drank fracking liquid in pledge of its safety, and he recorded an ad for his state’s oil and gas association.”

A Denver Post report on Hickenlooper’s trip did not offer the same context, focusing on a pledge between Canada and Colorado to cooperate but eschewing any specific mention of the environmental problems that have arisen — toxic sludge ponds, greenhouse gas emissions and the destruction of boreal forests — as a result of the oil development in Alberta.

“We welcome the opportunity to explore economic development opportunities for Colorado and see first-hand the operations in Alberta’s oil sands,” Hickenlooper said in a statement to the Post. “Expectations are high for North American energy producers and government to continue to raise the bar on environmental management.”

Colorado environmentalists aren’t satisfied with that statement.

“Instead of touring one of the world’s dirtiest sources of energy in Canada, Gov. Hickenlooper needs to get back to Colorado and take care of business here and ensure the public health is protected,” said Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action.

“It’s time for the governor to stop pretending all is well with the oil and gas industry and force it to operate in a transparent and accountable way. It’s time the governor starts looking out for the well-being of the public instead of the profits of the billion-dollar oil and gas industry.”

Another top Colorado environmentalist, Pete Maysmith of Conservation Colorado, told FOX31 it was hard to comment on Hickenlooper’s visit and his statements because it’s unclear whether he was supporting the oil sands or the government’s efforts to clean them up.

Hickenlooper told Canadian reporters that he’s undecided on whether he supports the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to transport oil from Alberta across the United States to the Gulf of Mexico.

But, according to another Canadian report, he noted it’s safer and less damaging to the environment to move hydrocarbons on pipelines than on railroads, and said that Alberta’s oil sands generally get a bad rap.

“There [are] a lot of negotiations to be worked out, but [as] people get these facts and get to see that Alberta is really committed to a really green future, people will change their minds in the United States,” Hickenlooper reportedly predicted.

In Colorado, the Democrat-controlled legislature is moving ahead with several bills aimed at increasing regulations on the oil and gas industry, stiffening fines for environmental contamination and taking the industry’s representatives off a state board charged with regulating development in the state.

If those bills pass both legislative chambers, Hickenlooper will be under immense pressure from both the environmentalists among his party’s base who want the legislation signed into law and the industry he used to work in that will be lobbying hard for a few vetoes.