From The Cheap Seats: Hickenlooper’s Energy Tightrope

March 15, 2012
jkarsh /Free Photos

The biggest political question in Colorado is how long Gov. John Hickenlooper can keep the act going.

The governor has been adept, to be sure.

On the one hand, the governor appeared in a commercial that was made with the help of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association in which the governor stated the obvious.  Since the passage of Colorado’s new rules in 2008, Hickenlooper said, “We have not had one instance of groundwater contamination associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing.”

Never mind that Colorado, to say nothing of the rest of the country, has had not one instance of groundwater contamination, according to the American Petroleum Institute.

In fact, there have been more than 1 million hydraulic fracturing jobs completed in the United States since the late 1940s and there has not been a single documented case of fracturing fluid defying gravity and rising through hundreds, if not thousands of feet of rock to contaminate fresh water Even the Environmental Defense Fund’s Scott Anderson conceded that “in the vast majority of cases, if wells are constructed right and operated right,” hydraulic fracturing will cause no problem.

Exactly why the Oil and Gas Association went along with the governor’s subtle misrepresentation is up for debate, but it otherwise makes sense. Why shouldn’t the association recruit the governor, if on his somewhat nebulous conditions? Any validation from a Democrat governor is helpful, after all.

Hickenlooper, on the other hand, had powerful incentive to come out in favor of fracking. He is, after all a political animal of the most clever variety, the kind of predator that looks like prey. He’s made a career out of that kind of camouflage. Heck, if he can keep playing this, he might just ride it to the Oval Office.

When he made the ad, Hickenlooper knew he’d be hauled into the enviro star chamber, confronted with his heresy and forced to recant.

Sure enough, 13 enviro groups expressed their horrified shock that a Democratic governor would suggest there was little danger in drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

The enviros said the picture painted by governor was misleading, which is, as we have seen, true.

Enviros said the Hickenlooper ad “misleads the public by ignoring the high incidence of groundwater contamination from spills and releases of toxic chemicals at or near drilling sites.”

Of course the governor never mentioned spills or releases of toxic chemicals. He talked about hydraulic fracturing, a subject on which he, as a geologist, has some credibility.

Hickenlooper has, of course, apologized profusely.  Although it’s not recorded whether he commented, echoing Galileo, who said, “And yet it does move,” of the Earth when he confessed his home planet was the stable focal point of the universe.

“And yet water still doesn’t run uphill,” Hickenlooper might have muttered to no one but himself.  Politically, of course, the governor has managed to accomplish the near impossible.

He has given ammunition to the energy industry, appeased enviros at least for now and kept casual watchers of Colorado politics bemused, but not irritated.

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