Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper appeared in front of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on opportunities and challenges for natural gas. Colorado is the epicenter of both the gas boom and the controversy over its impacts. Natural gas has been an economic boon to our state; it's how many of us heat our homes and businesses and it can potentially be a cheap, clean and safe energy source for only hundreds of dollars each winter. Extracted properly, natural gas could be a piece of the solution to climate change and a path to reducing local air pollution, like Denver's brown cloud.
But we have to get the gas out of the ground in the most responsible way, and to do that we need a governor who equally weighs the concerns of the gas industry with the rest of the state. Today, it is unclear Hickenlooper shows that balance: Around here he's known for oil and gas industry cheerleading. And his track record suggests that unlike most westerners, he doesn't agree that conservation and the outdoors, not just oil and gas, are key foundations of our economy and quality of life. According to the newly released 2013 Colorado College State of the Rockies Conservation in the West bipartisan poll, 70 percent of Coloradans think that the impact of oil and gas drilling on our land, air and water is a serious problem.
The governor likes to joke that the oil and gas industry and the environmentalists are both mad at him equally, portraying himself as the even-handed moderate. However, his record tells quite a different story. The gas industry claims he's been a good friend, but the conservation community does not. In fact, during his first year as governor he appeared in promotional ads for the Colorado Oil & Gas Association claiming that neither fracking nor drilling has ever polluted groundwater, despite the fact that his own state regulators directly contradicted that claim. He can't really believe that, can he? Never ever?
The ordinarily popular governor was met by boos, jeers and shouts during a town hall meeting about an amendment to ban hydraulic fracturing in a Denver suburb. He then sued the same town for upping their oil and gas standards. Three weeks ago a memo mistakenly released by a Chesapeake Energy lobbyist stated: "His relationship to the oil & gas industry is strong and he has been a national leader speaking out against the anti-fracturing forces that have invaded Colorado." And just a few days ago the governor was questioned on his coziness with the oil and gas industry that funded his latest pet ballot measure project, Amendment S.
Don't get me wrong. I am a businessman, a parent of two young children and a Hickenlooper supporter. I don't oppose fracking if it's done right, and I have friends and business colleagues in the gas industry. I'm grateful for this resource and the businesses that bring it to my door. But it just seems like common sense that drilling and extraction should occur in the most responsible way, to protect the pristine environment that makes Colorado great and undergirds our economy.
Drill rig and well pad setbacks should not be just adequate, but exemplary. There should be strict controls on fugitive methane (a damaging greenhouse pollutant). Standards for regional air quality ought to make us proud. We should be using the best and safest possible technology in every aspect of construction to completion. And, obviously, there are many places that we simply shouldn't drill.
To keep our economy growing in all sectors -- winter tourism alone in Colorado is a $2 billion business that employs almost 40,000 -- we need our governor to show the right balance between energy development and conservation.
Cross-posted from The Hill.