Gov. Hickenlooper heckled at DU fracking debate

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, fields questions during a debate about fracking at the University of Denver on Monday.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, fields questions during a debate about fracking at the University of Denver on Monday.

DENVER — Three anti-fracking hecklers were removed from the audience at a public debate Monday after challenging Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper for his support of the oil and gas industry.

“You just give lip service to green energy but you don’t do anything,” said one man in the audience at the 45-minute debate between Hickenlooper and Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones, both Democrats, at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law.

“Look around, green energy is not here. We’re surrounded by oil and gas and it’s killing us,” the heckler yelled before being escorted out.

Hickenlooper, who laughed off the verbal abuse from the audience, said that he supports increasing renewable energy and praised natural gas as a cleaner, transition fuel from carbon-based fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources like solar and wind.

The debate before a packed room of DU students, faculty and interested reporters gave increased definition to the growing rift between Hickenlooper, whose rising national profile is that of a popular, western moderate, and the environmentalists within his party’s base who are unhappy with his strong pro-oil and gas industry stance.

Jones, a long-time environmental advocate elected to office last year, criticized Hickenlooper for threatening to sue municipalities like Longmont for banning fracking; and she challenged Hickenlooper to commit to increasing Colorado’s Renewable Energy Standard, which currently outlines a goal of making renewables 30 percent of Colorado’s energy use by the year 2020.

“I thought it was important for the governor to hear — yet again — that people are concerned about fracking and they don’t think the state is doing enough to protect their health,” Jones told FOX31 Denver following the debate.

Hickenlooper said he supports increasing the states reliance on renewable energy but stopped short of committing to raising the RES

“This stuff harms our health, we can do better,” Jones said.

Just last week, Hickenlooper toured Canada’s Alberta oil sands and praised efforts to make the extraction taking place there less damaging to the environment.

Jones said that new technologies and the expansion of horizontal drilling can protect homeowners and decrease the use of water in oil and gas exploration.

Hickenlooper said that fracking bans effectively take away energy companies’ mineral rights.

“Of all the wells we have in Colorado, about 96 percent utilize fracking,” he said. “So if you ban fracking, you are effectively taking someones mineral rights.”

Hickenlooper also ducked a question about one specific anti-fracking bill, House Bill 1269, which would take the three representatives of the oil and gas industry off the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which is charged with balancing the needs of the industry with environmental protection and public health.

Environmentalists and the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, contend that the commission’s dual mission to promote and regulate the industry is a problem and argue that the trade group representing oil and gas companies in the state already protects the industry’s interests.

Hickenlooper said only that changing the mission of the COGCC, which has been in statute for decades, “isn’t something you do lightly or without a lot of thought.”

Jones applauded Hickenlooper for being willing to debate the issue publicly, but said those who oppose fracking must continue to make their voices heard.

“People want action on this,” Jones told FOX31 Denver. “They want to make sure that their air is safe, that their water is safe and that their families are safe. That’s not a lot to ask.”