Oil and gas activists peppered Governor John Hickenlooper with questions this weekend. At first they protested outside the St. Regis hotel, hoping to catch Hickenlooper and other democratic governors in a conference. When Colorado’s governor didn’t come out to talk, demonstrators followed him to the Aspen Institute... where Hickenlooper appeared to get flustered after a barrage of questions.
A boisterous crowd of more than hundred people waved signs and shouted slogans. They faced Aspen’s upscale St Regis Hotel, where members of the Democratic Governor’s Association held a conference... hosted by Hickenlooper.
“We want him to put a moratorium on fracking until it’s proven safe, if that’s possible.”
Micah Parkin is with the environmental activist group “350,” one of the organizers of the protest. Hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, has opened up reserves previously considered out of reach. The result has been a drilling boom and a growing controversy over the chemicals used in the process.
“The people of Colorado, and increasingly people across our nation are extremely concerned about the impacts of fracking on our kids health, on our health, on our air, on our water and our climate...”
Scientific studies of fracking are inconclusive about the effect on human health. But Parkin, of Boulder, cited studies and figures she believes show negative impacts. And that’s what she wanted to tell Hickenlooper and the other governors. Many other protesters were from the Front Range, and said they support attempts to limit fracking on a city or county level. And they were frustrated the state’s oil and gas agency has joined second lawsuit against Longmont, this time over the city’s fracking ban. Longmont resident Mike Taylor said he traveled to Aspen also hoping to get Governor John Hickenlooper’s attention.
“If the Front Range can get a lot of the big communities to ban this, is he going to sue everybody? Maybe he will!”
Governor Hickenlooper says the suit is necessary to prevent municipalities from overruling state issued drilling leases. Organizers in Aspen had hoped he would meet with them. Especially since the Governor has publicly supported other citizen efforts to block drilling... most notably in the Thompson Divide area west of the Roaring Fork Valley. When Hickenlooper didn’t show, the protesters quickly regrouped and found him at the Aspen Institute... a think tank where Hickenlooper was making a public appearance with the other governors. At first, he was more than happy to talk.
Hickenlooper: “I just wanted to, I didn’t get a chance to answer that question because those guys…”
Allison Wolff: “I know, I would have loved to have heard your answer...”
The governor tried to convince the small crowd that fracking is safe, with proper regulations. He seemed confused that the state was suing Longmont again. He suggested another way for the city to protect residents without banning fracking altogether.
“I might be wrong, I’m not a lawyer, so I might be wrong. But my understanding was that communities can go and set their own, you can set standards of what your water cleanliness can be and air quality can be, right?”
After several minutes and a barrage of questions Hickenlooper appeared to get flustered.
Hickenlooper: “You got two issues. You got the environmental issue. and then you got a land use issue, right? Really, and those are two separate things.”
Suzanne Spiegel: “And also the health issue.”
Hickenlooper: “Well that’s environmental. So environment...”
Neshama Abraham: “Environmental is climate change, but people are dying...”
Hickenlooper: “No, no, environmental’s not just climate change. Environmental’s...”
Suzanne Spiegel: “We represent a lot of people, just so you know.”
Hickenlooper: “I understand, I understand…”
Shortly after, Hickenlooper’s staffers hustled the governor away. Suzanne Spiegel, with Frack-Free Colorado, was left unconvinced.
“The regulations that they’re giving us still put us in a very vulnerable position where we’re completely affected by the wells that are still, even if they’re 500 feet away, in our backyard.”
As the oil and gas boom continues, pressure is growing on Governor Hickenlooper from citizens who fear the environmental and health effects of drilling. Saturday’s confrontation makes it clear that tough questions are unlikely to be answered in brief and impromptu meetings.
Note: The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and Colorado Oil and Gas Association did not respond to requests for comment on this story.