DENVER — 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.”
“We respect the Congressman representing his constituents, and we understand the genuine anxiety and concern of having an industrial process close to neighborhoods,” said Hickenlooper’s spokesman, Eric Brown, later Tuesday. “In Colorado, the Constitution protects the rights of people to access their property above and below ground. Colorado has a robust and leading-edge regulatory process for oil and gas drilling and a collaborative relationship with environmental groups and the energy industry. We all share the same desire of keeping our air and water safe.”
Brown also noted the proposed air quality regulations outlined Monday that, if approved by the Air Quality Control Commission, would make Colorado the first state in the country to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas well sites.
“These rules – and earlier efforts that include mandatory disclosure of fracking ingredients; greater protections and setbacks for operating near neighborhoods; and significant expansion of water sampling before and after drilling – make Colorado a national model and leader in environmentally protective energy production,” Brown said.
Polis, who saw his own vacation home impacted by fracking when a well was drilled right across the street earlier this year, is also increasingly in step with constituents across the northern Front Range, who have responding to an oil and gas boom by approving fracking moratoriums in four communities earlier this month.
“Homeowners are concerned about what this is going to do to their property values,” said Sam Schabacker with the group, Food and Water Watch. “Families are worried about what this is going to do to their kids’ health.
“The governor and the industry is failing to protect our public health, our safety and our property. It’s not a question of trying to make it a little bit cleaner so the governor can appease his oil and gas friends.
“Fundamentally, these people do not want fracking.”
On Tuesday, a bevy of Hollywood celebrities joined the increasingly vocal opposition to fracking, appearing in a new advertisement asking Hickenlooper, “What the frack?”
“Fracking makes climate change worse,” says Emmanuelle Chriqui, an actress known for her role on HBO’s Entourage, during the 30-second spot that also features Malin Akerman, Lance Bass, Julie Bowen, Daryl Hannah, Hayden Panettiere, Amy Smart, Marisa Tomei and Wilmer Valderrama.
“This is letting him know that Hollywood will not have his back in 2016 if he continues to frack the people of Colorado,” said Schabacker, alluding to Hickenlooper’s possible presidential ambitions.
“They’re calling for a ban on natural gas, a product that we all use every day,” said B.J. Nikkel, a former Republican state lawmaker who now leads a group working to support energy development in Loveland.
“That’s just a really irrational and extreme solution. Gov. Hickenlooper should be praised for bringing both sides together to come up with this compromise on the clean air rules. That’s what we need to continue to do. Let’s pull all of the sides together and come up with a plan and a compromise that’s reasonable and rational and works for everybody.”
Hickenlooper, who spoke to FOX31 Denver Tuesday morning, praised the compromise on air quality rules, noting that executives from the state’s three biggest energy companies and top environmentalists stood with him on Monday in supporting it.
“There are a lot of things we can continue to improve, but it’s a huge first step,” Hickenlooper said.
The issue offers the governor an opportunity to remind voters of his centrist streak, of the consensus-driven businessman they elected in 2010, according to political analyst Eric Sondermann.
“It allows him to look like a centrist, not the captain of the Democratic left, as he appears after a tough legislative session,” Sondermann said, also noting that the issue is not without serious risk.
“The risk is alienating the Democratic base. They may not give him much latitude to have that middle ground.”