After more than two years of dismaying conservationists with his relentless promotion (and frequent prevarications) in support of the controversial practice of hydraulic fracture drilling for oil and natural gas, all the while proclaiming the practice's safety, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has cut to the bottom line.
And announced that the state will sue any city or town that attempts to ban "fracking" within its borders. CBS4:
Gov. John Hickenlooper says he won’t tolerate cities and towns that ban oil and gas drilling within their borders and he promises to take them to court.
CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd sat down with the governor, who was blunt. He told Boyd the state will sue any local government that bans hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the drilling technique that uses high-pressure water and chemicals to extract natural gas.
“Nothing makes me less happy then to have to be in a lawsuit with a municipality,” Hickenlooper said…
“The bottom line is, the way we have a split estate in this part of the world – pretty much all of the western United States — someone paid money to buy mineral rights under that land,” Hickenlooper said. “You can’t harvest the mineral rights without doing hydraulic fracturing, which I think we’ve demonstrated again and again can be done safely.”
The problem: Gov. Hickenlooper has severely damaged his personal credibility to assert fracking is "safe." During recent testimony before a U.S. Senate committee in opposition to greater federal regulation, Hickenlooper again claimed to have "drank fracking fluid"–without disclosing that the product he consumed is not used commercially. Even without that disclosure, Hickenlooper's testimony received widespread coverage, including a ribbing from Comedy Central's Indecision (see: "The Hickenlooper: A Fracking Perfect Valentine's Day Cocktail"). The overwhelming majority of that press coverage simply repeated the line about "drinking frack fluid" with no further details: again, nothing to indicate that people should not head out to their nearest drill pad and gulp down whatever they are actually "fracking" with there. After the story traveled widely enough to raise that question, Hickenlooper attempted to backpedal, admitting belatedly to a small-market Durango reporter, “I don’t think there’s any frack fluid right now that I’m aware of that people are using commercially that you want to drink.”
This logically calls into question why he spent years telling anyone who would listen, without any more detailed explanation or qualifiers, that you can drink fracking fluid. Those questions become deeper when Hickenlooper makes sweeping claims about the safety of "fracking" in pro-industry ads that are refuted by the state's own records of accidents and water contamination all over the state. With the facts established, and regardless of the local press' inexplicable willingness to run cover for him, it's undeniable that Hickenlooper has been willingly and knowingly deceiving Coloradans every time he has told them this lie–which is frequently as Governor.
How, then, cities rightly ask, can his administration be trusted to protect their communities?
Folks, this is not a game. New technologies are bringing energy development to places it has never been before. Split estates are what they are, but the responsibility of government to protect its citizens' health and welfare matters at least as much. Based on Hickenlooper's own questionable words, and the questionable actions of state regulators in his administration, what we have here are communities making a choice–to challenge what they consider to be inadequate protection from the state, to not risk their health and safety with this administration.
Despite his folksy charm and army of spin doctors, Hickenlooper has nothing with which to reassure them. And now, in the hardest test of his vaunted popularity yet, the charm offensive is about to lose its charm.