Hickenlooper’s Fracking Balancing Act

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Oil & Gas Exploration in Colorado (credit: CBS)

Oil & Gas Exploration in Colorado (credit: CBS)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

When Governor John Hickenlooper told the crowd at the Colorado Oil and Gas annual conference this week that Colorado will be pursuing laws that mandate new requirements for hydraulic fracturing, his finest political balancing talents were on display.

If any other Democratic Governor had used an oil and gas conference to announce new regulations and rules, they might have been booed off the stage, or at the every least, made to feel very uncomfortable.

However, John Hickenlooper is no ordinary Democratic Governor.

As a former geologist, Hickenlooper has more credibility than the average Governor on these issues. And whether it was from his experience as a geologist, or his experience as a politician, Hickenlooper knew how to play this particular crowd with this particular issue.

Soon after telling the industry that more regulations were likely on their way in Colorado, he made a very interesting moment about groundwater contamination.

Hickenlooper said, “Everyone in this room understands that hydraulic fracturing doesn’t connect to groundwater, that it’s almost inconceivable that groundwater will be contaminated.”

In that one statement, Hickenlooper put himself squarely in two very different camps, the environmentalists and the oil and gas industry.

Environmentalists, who completely disagree with him on that very issue, like the progress he is making on new rules and regulations.

Oil and gas companies, who disagree with the need for new rules, certainly agree Hickenlooper’s stance on groundwater contamination. That stance should actually hold back even further “fracking” regulation that a different Governor may have pursued.

In the end, this will all come down to the details of the new regulations regarding making public the ingredients used in hydraulic fracturing. No one knows if the rules created by the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission later this year will be strict or lenient.

The final looks of the new rules may be the key factor in how Hickenlooper comes out of this balancing act. Right now, environmentalists are cautiously optimistic, as are oil and gas companies.

But one of those groups is going to be happier when the final rules are released, and one group may be angry.

Usually when a politician straddles two very different stands on an issue, he or she eventually, as Mr. Miyagi warned in the Karate Kid, runs the risk of being “squished like grape.”

That happened to former Governor Bill Ritter on several occasions as he tried to appease labor unions and the business community alternatively, and ended up making both groups extremely angry with him.

If John Hickenlooper has taught us anything over his political career, he has shown that he can navigate tricky political situations and come out smelling like a rose. This particular issue should be an excellent test for the Governor and also an excellent example of how Hickenlooper intends to govern from the middle.

Pleasing both sides of the aisle at the same time is very difficult, and sometimes, very risky. But Governor Hickenlooper may prove with this issue that it can also be very rewarding, especially in a state as purple as Colorado.

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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