Energy

Talk puts fracking front and center

Hickenlooper says panel seeking compromise will be his responsibility

Vic Vela
Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks during an Aug. 8 round table discussion with business leaders at the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce in Centennial.
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Gov. John Hickenlooper said last week that he will be the one who selects the members of a task force that will be charged with finding a compromise on issues surrounding hydraulic fracturing.

The governor also addressed concerns on the part of Republicans that the commission's work could result in more regulations on the oil and gas industry.

Hickenlooper talked about fracking during an Aug. 8 roundtable event with several business leaders at the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce in Centennial, as well as during an interview with Colorado Community Media afterward.

The governor said his administration hasn't quite figured out how the 18-member commission will be selected or how it will ultimately operate. But the governor put aside any question as to who will put the task force together.

“People ask me, `Who's gonna pick 'em?' I am,” Hickenlooper said. “The buck stops here and I guarantee you we're going to have everybody pissed off again. The one criteria is that everyone who is going to be on that list is someone who believes we can get to a yes (on a compromise).”

The task force was born out of a deal the governor reached with Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis earlier in the week that will keep anti-fracking initiatives that Polis was backing from appearing on the November ballot.

The measures would have required greater distances between wells and occupied structures and would have given communities more control over fracking — the process in which water and chemicals are blasted into the ground to free up trapped oil and gas.

Remarks in spotlight

Hickenlooper and the oil and gas industry were fearful that the initiatives would essentially ban fracking in Colorado and cripple the state's economy.

Instead of the voters, it will be the task force that will take up those issues and that will provide recommendations for potential legislation to the General Assembly.

But Republican lawmakers are already feeling uneasy about the commission. And their concerns were heightened following comments Hickenlooper made during an energy summit in Denver earlier in the week.

According to the Associated Press, Hickenlooper said the task force's “success is dependent upon it ending in regulation.” That comment didn't sit well with House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland.

“We should go into it from the premise that the commission take a look at whether we actually need regulations,” DelGrosso said in an interview prior to the governor's Chamber of Commerce event. “He's starting with the premise that it's going to be set up to regulate.”

Hickenlooper, in an interview with Colorado Community Media, insisted that's not what he said, even though he made his comments in front of a group of reporters.

“What I said was legislation,” the governor said. “Go back and look at the quotes. I never said we needed more regulation. Now, we might. Again, this is the whole point of getting people from all the different viewpoints in the same room and letting them have a discussion in such a way to try to figure out: `Is there a compromise here?' "

Hickenlooper said he would like to see the task force's effort result in some kind of legislation, even if it's merely “taking existing regulation and codifying it.”

“Unless we get it into legislation, I mean we would have made progress, even if we just discuss it we will have made progress,” he said during the interview. “But I think that the best success will be if we get to some level of legislation.”

Hickenlooper said the commission will have a “narrow focus,” one that he hopes will result in work getting done in a timely manner.

“We're not going to be out there talking about air quality; we're not going to be out there talking about water quality,” he said. “We're really going to look into surface use issues, a very narrow set of issues to talk about.”

From 48 to 18

The governor said there were different opinions among his staff regarding the makeup of the commission, including an initial suggestion that the task force have 48 members.
The governor believes that an 18-member commission will have the appropriate balance of interests being considered.

“The idea is there's six spots for the oil and gas industry, but that would include pro-industry sides like home builders and agricultural interests,” he said during the roundtable forum. “There should be six from the local control and the environmental side of things ... And then six civic leaders who as far as we can tell are not on the record one way or the other, who are what the Quakers call a fair witness.”

The governor acknowledges that there are logistics that still need to be figured out.

“We still have a lot to work through,” he said. “You know, (such as) if you want a representative from agriculture, is it from the Cattlemen's Association or the wheat growers?”

State Rep. Max Tyler, D-Lakewood, the chairman of the House Transportation and Energy Committee who crafted several pieces of energy-related legislation, said he is hopeful that the task force will result in legislation that is needed to tackle this “really thorny problem.”

“We need to make sure that everybody has a voice,” Tyler said in a phone interview. “Ballot initiatives are a huge sledgehammer and you never know what the consequences are going to be and you can't make changes. And that's not good policy.”

But DelGrosso said he doesn't know “if you'll actually see legislation come out of the commission.”

And, when asked how a battle over fracking would rank on the list of other controversial measures taken up by the General Assembly in recent years, DelGrosso said, “Extremely high.”

“The reality is the economic impact that the oil and gas industry has in Colorado is tremendous,” DelGrosso said.