Hickenlooper notches victory on fracking regs

DENVER - Fracking has been a tough political issue for Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado).

His support for the oil and gas industry has brought support to his campaigns, while frequently drawing the ire of environmental groups who oppose the use of traditional fossil fuels.

Hickenlooper emerged from that thicket with a press conference Tuesday, where he was joined by environmentalists and oil executives signing the praises of his administration's new rules to fight air pollution from the industry.

"Trust me, you have no idea," Hickenlooper said. "I don't think I can put into words how hard this one was."

He's referring to a set of rules aimed at finding and fixing gas leaks in the oil industry's equipment.

By requiring regular inspections using infrared cameras and other qualifying technology, the state figures the new rules will keep 60,000 tons of methane (a greenhouse gas) from polluting the air.

Another 92,000 tons of other pollutants that lead to brown clouds of smog in Colorado would be contained, according to state estimates.

"Any oil and gas company in Colorado will tell you that their employees and their families breathe the same air as everyone does," Hickenlooper said.

Executives from Noble Energy and Anadarko echoed that sentiment, as did environmentalists.

"He deserves praise and credit for leading and bringing together this coalition of oil and gas companies and environmental groups," said Pete Maysmith with Conservation Colorado.

The Environmental Defense Fund hailed the first-in-the-nation methane regulations as a model for other states.

Still, it wasn't lost on the governor that there are other environmental activists who want a much harder line on fracking.

"Today is not going to satisfy people that are really against all hydrocarbons and want to see us tomorrow without burning any of these fossil fuels," Hickenlooper said. "But the reality is, that's not going to happen."

In the wake of lawsuits by the state and the oil industry, one group is trying to get a question on the ballot that would explicitly allow local governments to ban fracking.

Hickenlooper opposes bans, saying somebody owns the oil underground.

"We've gotten letters from retired couples in Akron, Ohio that have mineral rights outside Longmont. And this is part of their retirement. They're saying, 'are we going to forfeit this if this ban on fracking goes forward,'" Hickenloopeer said. "At the same time, the retired couple that's actually living in Longmont, they're saying, 'hey, don't we have a voice in what's going on around our community?'"

The governor said it's going to take more compromise to balance those concerns.

In the meantime, lawmakers are expected to introduce a bill next month to increase fines on oil companies who violate the state's rules.

The governor says the details of that bill are still being negotiated.


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