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Hickenlooper rankles environmentalists over pro-fracking ad

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DENVER – At every opportunity, Gov. John Hickenlooper talks about Colorado’s new fracking disclosure rule, agreed to by oil and gas companies and environmentalists, as an example of his — and, by extension, the state’s — pragmatic, apolitical, compromise-minded brand.

But his decision to voice a radio ad defending hydraulic fracturing, a controversial process in which a mix of water, sand and chemicals are shot deep underground to loosen oil and gas reserves for easier extraction, is rankling a number of environmental groups who argue that “fracking”, as it’s known, is contaminating groundwater.

Hickenlooper, who has cited his support for fracking when ostensibly attempting to dismiss talk of a possible presidential run in 2016, may be viewing the issue strategically — a chance to portray himself as independent.

But environmentalists, who largely have supported Hickenlooper, are calling him out for taking the oil and gas industry’s side — and for being less than truthful in doing so.

In the radio ad paid for by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the industry’s main lobbying group, Hickenlooper heralds the new fracking rule as the nation’s strongest but then claims: “we have 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.

“We are disappointed that the Governor lent his voice to a trade association advertisement that fails to tell the full story and leaves Coloradans with a false sense of security when it comes to groundwater contamination,” said Elise Jones, executive director of Colorado Environmental Coalition.

“The unmistakable takeaway message from the ad is ‘don’t worry, everything is okay’ when it comes to water and oil and gas exploration. That is not the case.  There are numerous documented cases of groundwater contamination since 2008.”

COGA is refusing to pull the ad off the air and Hickenlooper, through a spokesperson, tried to clarify his statement.

“With the conservation community’s help, we crafted the toughest disclosure rule in the country. That was the larger point made in the ads,” said the spokeswoman, Megan Castle.

“Being a pro-business state also means holding ourselves to the highest environmental standards. That’s been a consistent message of our administration from the first day and we mean to keep it that way.

“It is certainly true that spills and releases associated with equipment failures at drilling sites have occurred and have impacted shallow ground water. That’s a very different process from drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Equipment failures at the surface of drilling sites are the exception, but when they occur we take them very seriously, require they be reported, and quickly cleaned up,” Castle continued.

“It would be unfortunate if the progress we have made working with the environmental community and industry to find collaborative solutions got lost in what is a very good Colorado story.”

Pete Maysmith, the executive director of Colorado Conservation Voters, said that Hickenlooper’s leadership on the fracking disclosure rule makes it all the more puzzling why he’d lend his voice to such a misleading statement.

“Gov. Hickenlooper did the right thing last fall in leading the effort to bring transparency to industry’s use of fracking chemicals,” said Maysmith. “He understood that full disclosure will allow us to make smart decisions about how to protect our world class environment when oil and gas drilling occurs.

“Given his support of transparency and full disclosure, it was particularly dismaying to hear such a misleading ad on the air. The good news is that the governor is a ‘fix-it’ leader.  We urge him to get the misleading ad withdrawn and to redouble his commitment to protecting Colorado’s water resources and communities.”