Hickenlooper denies flip-flopping on oil and gas drilling regulations

DENVER – Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper Wednesday responded to accusations of flip-flopping on oil and gas regulations first made at a tea party rally in Estes Park Tuesday by potential Republican opponent Scott McInnis. Hickenlooper said that while he has said some of the rules enacted in the spring of 2009 went too far, he has never said he planned to change those rules.

John Hickenlooper, left, and Scott McInnis.
Speaking before a receptive crowd of industry professionals Wednesday, McInnis again accused the Denver mayor of flip-flopping on statements made during a similar discussion last month to the Petroleum Club. McInnis said that Hickenlooper bowed to environmentalist pressure and reversed his position.

“I do think that some of the rule making went too far. I do think that some of them can not be applied statewide, but I never said I wanted to repeal them,” Hickenlooper said Wednesday at the Rocky Mountain Energy Epicenter Conference put on by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA). “I think to reopen [the regulations] creates a great deal of uncertainty.”

Colorado Conservation Voters Executive Director Pete Maysmith said claims of a Hickenlooper turnaround on oil and gas regulations appeared unfounded. He said while media reports have painted a murky picture of Hickenlooper’s position, the importance of the oil and gas regulations to his organization led him to attend the Petroleum Club speech McInnis referenced. Maysmith said while there he didn’t hear any indication Hickenlooper planned to turn back the clock on regulations, which would have caused his group to act.    

“We oppose any attempts to roll back the rules,” Maysmith said. “They were passed unanimously by the oil and gas commission. If a candidate says they are going to roll back the rules, then of course that is a concern to us … I didn’t hear Mayor Hickenlooper say he was going to roll back the rules. No. 

“It is our hope and expectation that whoever is elected governor is going to recognize that these help to keep Colorado the special unique place that it is,” Maysmith added.    

Hickenlooper’s campaign released this statement during Wednesday’s debate:

“Hickenlooper has been consistent on the rules, saying that he would not reopen the rules. Instead he would work with the authority already granted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.”

The moderator for the discussion, Adam Schrager of 9News, picked up on McInnis’s accusations and asked Hickenlooper if he was waffling on a decision to change the oil and gas commission regulations put in place under Gov. Bill Ritter after a nearly two-year public hearing process.

“It is not waffling at all,” Hickenlooper said. “The choice is to reopen the oil and gas rule making and go through that process again and open old wounds. Or you can say the process right now is correcting the mistakes that are there, and so those mistakes are going to get worked out in the process. Those are two very different responses.”

McInnis said while environmental concerns needed to be addressed, the industry needed to be spurred forward by a new makeup on the oil and gas commission that puts a greater emphasis on industry professionals.

“You have three experts on the commission of oil and gas out of nine. It is not a social engineering commission; it is the oil and gas commission.”

However, Hickenlooper responded that though new individuals would be appointed to the board, he did not feel that the overall makeup of the board needs to be changed. Augmenting the current design, which includes both environmental and industry representatives, was not in the cards, Hickenlooper said. However, he said each should be an expert in the oil an gas industry.

McInnis said Hickenlooper went too far in his desire to create green fuels in the state, and said he wanted to get rid of the automobile instead of converting them to natural gas. “He doesn’t talk about converting cars to natural gas, which would be a natural answer. He says we have to get rid of cars.”

It was a statement Hickenlooper’s camp called patently false, adding that Hickenlooper has publicly stated his support for “compressed natural gas stations along interstates and compressed natural gas vehicle fleets in the public and private sector.”

While it was clear the oil and gas industry professionals liked what they heard from McInnis during the talks, it was less clear how Colorado voters will respond to calls to pare down the New Energy Economy and invite an era of decreased regulation into the state.