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Colorado governor drank fracking fluid and lived to tell the Senate about it

Greg Campbell
Contributor

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper told a Senate committee on Tuesday that he’s so comfortable with how his state regulates the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing that he once drank a glass of fracking fluid produced by energy company Halliburton.

It wasn’t very good, he told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but “I’m still alive.”

Hickenlooper was in Washington D.C. to encourage Congress to leave regulating natural gas extraction up to the states. The Democrat has long sided with energy companies that fracking can be safe and needn’t involve the federal government. He touted Colorado as a “national model” in how states can properly regulate fracking.

However, not even some communities in Colorado agree with him. A malfunctioning well just outside Fort Collins had been spewing green-tinted fracking fluid for more than 24 hours by Tuesday afternoon. Crews were containing the oil-heavy spill with an earthen berm and waiting for a special team from Texas to plug the leak.

Fort Collins is considering allowing citizens to vote on whether or not to ban fracking within city limits, even though the Colorado Oil and Gas Association is suing the city of Longmont for a similar vote in November.

COGA argues that a ban on fracking is a defacto ban on oil and gas development, which the courts have prohibited.

“You cannot do any energy development in Longmont without hydraulic fracturing,” said Doug Flanders, COGA spokesman. “If there is no oil and gas development, the owners of those mineral rights have to, in some form or fashion, be compensated for that loss, because there is no way to get to those minerals for the purpose of extraction.”

Longmont is also being sued by the state for adopting stricter regulations on fracking than required by the state. Hickenlooper has long argued that the state is regulating fracking appropriately, and that allowing each community to adopt its own standards would create a complicated patchwork of regulations that could scare away energy companies.

COGA wouldn’t comment on whether Fort Collins would also land in court if it banned fracking.

“We hope that we’re not even going to be considering that,” Flanders said. “We’re working really hard (with Fort Collins) not to even have the specter of a lawsuit.”

Fracking opponents are concerned about potential impacts to air and water quality. A 2011 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found the air quality around the small Boulder County community of Erie—where there are 58 well pads within two miles of the town center; each pad can contain up to eight wells—was worse than much larger metro areas like Pasadena, Calif., and Houston, Texas.

The study found ethane, propane and butane in the air around Erie in levels up to, and in some cases exceeding, 10 times the volume found in those other cities.

“Propane is much, much larger in Erie than it is in major urban areas elsewhere and that’s a clear signature that we’re impacted by the oil and gas (operations),” said NOAA researcher Dr. Steve Brown during a meeting with town trustees last March.

When asked if the number of alkanes in Erie’s air (a family of oil-and-gas related compounds that includes ethane, propane and butane) could be considered “extraordinarily high,” Brown said, “You could use that language.”

Hickenlooper has asked for a $1 million study of fracking, even though he has said that he believes it’s safe.

The fracking fluid he drank — in what he joked was a near-ritualistic way with others who were passing it around a table — is made of food-based material, according the Washington Times. Hickenlooper told senators that oil and gas companies shouldn’t be pressured to reveal the ingredients of their fracking fluids.

“If we were overzealous in forcing them to disclose what they had created, they wouldn’t bring it into our state,” the paper quotes him as saying.

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