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Hick: Drilling Rules Safe, Oil & Gas Is Temporary

Screenshot from aspeninstitute.org

Colorado residents can vote this fall on whether communities can limit oil and gas drilling. The state supreme court approved four ballot measures Monday, June 30th, that allows such questions. The decision comes as Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper is in Aspen, speaking at the Ideas Festival about existing rules for the industry. He was joined yesterday by the head of the Environmental Defense Fund, Fred Krupp.

Hickenlooper says he’s proud of the state’s existing regulations to protect human health, pointing to laws ranging from tracking fracking fluid to newly tightened air quality restrictions. The latter went into effect earlier this year, and the governor believes getting industry and state officials to agree ahead of time was key.

“The bottom line was, in the end, both sides claimed victory. And I think that’s the trick.”

“No the trick is governor that ultimately we’ve got to get to a world where it’s not victory and defeat, it’s problem and solution.”

That’s Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, who was part of the negotiations for Colorado’s new air rules. There was tension at times between the two, illustrating the strain happening statewide over how to best regulate the industry. The current safety precautions have not been enough for some communities, particularly on the Front Range, where residents are concerned about well pads popping up right next to homes and schools. Hickenlooper, who’s running for office again in the fall, maintained the state is taking the right steps to make sure those homeowners are are safe. But he understands there’s a larger debate.

“So this is really a land use issue, right? How do you safeguard people, so if you’re within 1500 or 2000 feet of a person’s home, or a park or a school a gathering  place, how do we put that underground with a bulkhead, how do we have collecting tanks, underground, so that we minimize the impact and yet still let the person who owns the mineral rights, have that private property they’ve always owned?”

Voters may end up making that decision for the governor in the fall, if they pass ballot measures that give communities the say on whether to allow drilling. Four communities already have bans in place, but Hickenlooper’s administration is challenging them. The governor and Krupp both acknowledge poor drilling practices can cause fracking contamination and earthquakes… but they believe overall, it’s a temporary industry.

“I think there is still a strong component, or group of people that are very agitated about fracking, very concerned about it. And I’m quick to say that, natural gas is a transition fuel.”

Adam McCabe, a military veteran who lives in Carbondale, pressed both speakers on that point.

“What kind of accountability and stipulations are being put into place, to encourage a rapid weaning off of fossil fuels?”

Governor Hickenlooper: “Well, Fred can probably answer this, you want to? No? I mean, we still have incentives, and trying to do more for wind incentives and solar, we’re looking at ways to incentivize electric cars, for instance...”

After Hickenlooper gave more examples, McCabe followed up.

“Is incentive the only way? You can lead a horse to water but can you make them drink, is there an accountability aspect that can be enforced stronger?”

Fred Krupp: “Yes, It’s a great question and I feel the same urgency you feel, that enough time has been spent about what’s going to happen in 2050,or what the goal has to be in 2050. We need to know what’s going to happen tomorrow and the next few years.”

Hickenlooper says he’s working with other Western governors to develop a regional approach to achieve more immediate goals. He’s scheduled to speak again at the Festival today, Tuesday July 1st. That’s during a talk with Katie Couric about marijuana.

Editor's Note: You can hear the entire talk, as broadcast on Aspen Public Radio, by clicking here.

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