DENVER–Gov. John Hickenlooper disappointed environmental groups Tuesday by telling a Senate committee that fracking fluid is safe enough to drink–and that he has.
“At one point in my office–I’m not sure how this happened–but the new frack fluid is made of food additives, and somehow we all took a swig of frack fluid,” Hickenlooper told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in Washington, D.C. “It was not terribly tasty, but again, I’m still alive.”
Hickenlooper testified at a hearing entitled “Opportunities and Challenges Associated with America’s Natural Gas Resources,” and once again he emerged as a cheerleader for natural gas, saying that its development “is fundamental to a successful energy strategy.”
He said a proactive natural-gas strategy has the potential to bring economic prosperity and energy independence while combating climate change. Replacing coal-fired electricity plants with natural gas plants, and converting diesel and gasoline-powered vehicle engines to natural gas, reduces carbon-dioxide emissions, he said.
The governor cited a U.S. Energy Information Agency report saying that carbon-dioxide emissions in the first four months of 2012 had dropped to 1992 levels, despite population growth of 57 million, which “translates to per capita carbon emissions at the lowest level since President Eisenhower left office in 1961.”
“This emerging data is nothing short of transformative,” said Hickenlooper.
He also put in a plug for the “all-of-the-above” approach to energy, including renewable energy and conservation strategies. At the same time, he warned against putting a federal thumb on the scale for electric vehicles.
“[W]e do not need to pick winners and losers at the start of the game,” said Hickenlooper. “Let’s continue to pursue a comprehensive approach and let the market work.”
Hickenlooper’s testimony appeared to be well-received by the committee–at one point, Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota razzed the governor about guzzling frack fluid, asking if it was part of a cult ritual–but it came as an unwelcome sign for Colorado environmental groups hoping to push anti-fracking legislation during this year’s session.
Conservation Colorado, the newly created environmental behemoth formed by the merger of the Colorado Environmental Coalition and Colorado Conservation Voters, released a statement Tuesday criticizing the governor for his pro-hydraulic fracturing message.
“Looks like Governor Hickenlooper really drank the frack-aid on this one. We’re astounded that Governor Hickenlooper would use a national platform to give the impression that frack fluid is safe for public health,” said deputy director Carrie Curtiss. “Rather than assuring a national audience that there is nothing to fear, his energy would be better spent protecting public health back home.”
Another bad omen for environmental groups: The governor praised the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for its work on drilling safety regulations, noting that the panel is finalizing rules that require “the most stringent mitigation requirements in the country to ensure work occurs with the least disturbance to nearby residents.”
The commission voted 8-1 Monday to approve 500-foot setbacks between homes and new wells, replacing the previous buffers of 350 feet for urban areas and 150 feet for rural areas. While industry officials balked at the revised rule, calling it inflexible, environmental groups insisted that the setbacks should have been set at 1,000 feet or more.
House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hollinghorst hinted in a statement that she would introduce legislation to expand the setbacks, saying the commission’s efforts “fall far short of protecting Coloradans.”
“As the state legislature continues its work this session, my colleagues and I will be looking to pursue measures that put the health and safety of Coloradans first and pursue balanced energy policies that protect Colorado’s environment, public health and our unique quality of life,” said Hollinghurst in a statement.
In his testimony, however, Hickenlooper came across as pleased with the state’s direction on energy, calling it “a model for the nation,” rather than determined to crack down on the fossil-fuel industry.
“This really is game changing,” said Hickenlooper. “Our focus is to make sure we continue this momentum, that we seize upon this opportunity in such a way that we can have a regulatory environment that is comprehensive and rigorous, but at the same time allows us to continue these advances.”