WASHINGTON – Interior Secretary Sally Jewell surprised House lawmakers during a budget hearing Thursday by giving a qualified endorsement of hydraulic fracturing, a process opposed by many environmental groups.
Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn, who asked Jewell her opinion of the safety of fracking, put out a press release even before Jewell’s testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee was finished.
In an interview outside the Capitol, Lamborn said Jewell’s remarks were politically advantageous to fracking supporters. “It helps defeat the bogeyman that some people have made fracking out to be,” he said.
Lamborn acknowledged that Jewell’s remarks could help fracking supporters at the ballot box in November, especially among independents who represent roughly one-third of the state’s registered voters.
A majority of Independents and Republicans in Colorado are supportive of fracking, according to a November Quinnipiac University poll. While 53 percent of Independents said fracking was very or somewhat safe, 81 percent of Republicans also agreed.
Jewell told the House panel that the safety of fracking depended on the quality of the cement used to carry the liquids.
“It absolutely can be done and has been done safely and responsibly,” Jewell said.
A former engineer at Mobil Corp., Jewell prefaced her comment by underlining her experience with the process of hydraulic fracturing.
“I may be one of the few secretaries of the Interior that has actually fracked wells before. I do understand the science behind this,” Jewell said.
Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva disagreed with Jewell’s comments about the safety of fracking.
“I was disappointed. I thought she should have come out stronger for disclosure requirements. We don’t know what these corporations put in some of these wells,” Grijalva said in an interview
Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis, an outspoken critic of fracking and a financial supporter of anti-fracking efforts, did not return a call for comment on Jewell’s remarks. Sierra Club spokesman Dan Byrnes also did not return calls for comment.
Jewell’s qualified blessing comes as the debate over fracking reaches a fever pitch in Colorado. Local Control Colorado, a group of community activists, seeks to garner 86,000 signatures by Aug. 4 to put a measure on the November ballot that would permit local communities to ban fracking.