Hickenlooper’s Growing Fracking Problem

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Gov. John Hickenlooper (credit: CBS)

Gov. John Hickenlooper (credit: CBS)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

John Hickenlooper has set the political bar in Colorado to a new level. He enjoyed nearly two terms as the Mayor of Denver at a level of popularity that made it feel more like a non-stop honeymoon. As Governor of Colorado, he has enjoyed nearly the same level of popularity. He has been able to navigate difficult issues and keep ahead of the game like few others before him.

However, in the issue of fracking, John Hickenlooper has met a political situation that has finally brought him back down to a difficult reality.

The funny thing is that only a year ago, many thought, including Hickenlooper himself, that he had crafted a hard fought compromise on the issue and that it was resolved in Colorado. But developments over the past year or so has shown that the issue of fracking is far from settled in Colorado, and may very well be on its way to getting worse.

At a recent debate at the University of Denver, Governor Hickenlooper, a well respected elected leader, was heckled by three separate people in the audience. This comes after people representing the pro-fracking side in other debates were threatened and harassed walking to their cars.

This is actually a situation I can speak to personally. I “moderated” a panel discussion at the Highlands Ranch Library on the issue of fracking last summer. Despite being in a library and having a balanced panel, that meeting quickly devolved into a shouting match with audience members. I was stunned, but I shouldn’t have been.

Fracking has become more volatile than the chemicals used in the process. And the bad news for Governor Hickenlooper is that it’s likely to get much worse before it gets better.

The problem for the Governor is that the key to the compromise he helped to craft is local communities actually adhering to the law. The law is that the state can currently craft the only regulations for fracking, removing cities and communities from the process. If any city decides to break this law, they can be sued by oil companies and the state itself to comply. Usually, that is enough motivation to keep cities in line.

But, that’s not the case on this issue.

And it’s not just one city, or just one political group of people. Liberals in Boulder and Conservatives in El Paso County are both looking to buck the system and go ahead and risk legal action in order to fight fracking in their own communities.

Obviously, this is not an issue Hickenlooper can take directly to the people. Whether he is booed in debates or challenged by potential ballot issues that would ban the practice, it seems that he will need another option.

He may just be faced with accepting an option that he has been able to avoid for his entire political career so far. He may simply be forced to defend an unpopular decision and go ahead and upset a large group of people.

He may not be used to doing it, but it may be his only option left.

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 on Colorado Public Television.

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