Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hickenlooper and the Energy Divide

Tuesday’s election highlighted the energy divide in Colorado. A majority of Front Range cities considering a fracking moratorium or ban adopted them and, although not all northeast counties voted to secede (5 out of 10), the protest continues and a significant issue is their economy is benefitted by gas and oil. They oppose fracking bans and resist paying for Democrats’ preference for wind and solar energy. In an interview with the New York Times, the political importance of the election was described:
“It’s an important vote,” said Floyd Ciruli, a pollster and political analyst whose Denver firm advises clients on how to marshal public support for initiatives. “People here are concerned about the real impact of fracking — the effect on the air, the noise, the dust, contaminated groundwater.”
Mr. Ciruli said the approved measures were likely to prompt state legislators and Mr. Hickenlooper to consider tightening regulation of the shale gas industry, in part to blunt future efforts by antifracking groups to expand bans or moratoriums. (Michael Wines, NYT, 11-7-13)
Governor Hickenlooper supports the gas and oil industry and believes from his scientific background that fracking is not dangerous to groundwater or other claims made against it. He has tried to appease his environmental base in the Democratic Party with renewable legislation and stronger state regulations on fracking. To rural voters, Hickenlooper offers opposition to fracking bans. Neither group is very happy with him.

Hickenlooper is not alone among his fellow Democratic governors and senators in dealing with a country highly divided on energy policy. Pew Research reports that there is growing support for the more liberal positions on energy policy. The shift is largely a reflection of Democrats getting on board. One exception is the Keystone Pipeline, which has even Democratic support for building. But, on restrictions related to coal, nuclear power and fracking, support has recently increased. However, on policy questions, there is significant partisan disagreement.
  • 65% support building the Keystone Pipeline (51% Democrats, 82% Republicans)
  • 58% support increased offshore oil drilling in U.S. waters
  • 38% favor increased use of nuclear power (58% opposed)
  • 65% like limits on emissions from power plants (74% Democrats, 52% Republicans)
  • 44% favor increased use of fracking for gas and oil drilling (49% oppose)
  • 58% rate alternative power sources more important than expanding traditional energy sources; i.e., wind and solar vs. oil, coal and gas
Pew Research: Continues Support for Keystone XL Pipeline
New York Times: Colorado cities’ rejection of fracking poses political test for natural gas industry

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