- Associated Press - Sunday, August 24, 2014

DENVER (AP) — On the second day of his vacation, surrounded by science fiction and comic book fans at Comic Con, Alan Salazar looked around the San Diego Convention Center for a quiet place so he could take a phone call from his boss.

It was July 25, and Gov. John Hickenlooper wanted to talk to his trusted staffer about yet another compromise attempt on fracking measures headed to the November ballot. Other deals had fallen apart, but Hickenlooper wanted to try again to get Congressman Jared Polis, the state’s $30 billion oil and gas industry, and other parties on board.

“Standing there in the convention center in the company of monsters and superheroes,” Salazar said, “I couldn’t help but think that John Hickenlooper was taking on his own version of the zombie apocalypse.”

Apocalypse indeed.

Colorado has been described as ground zero in the national battle over fracking. The state is so dependent on the energy industry that 30 percent of downtown Denver offices are filled with oil and gas workers, but it’s so in tune with the environment that Republicans vote for tax measures to support open space.

A clash was inevitable.

Colorado is also a key battleground when it comes to national politics. Any false move over fracking negotiations, any mistake, could hurt the tough re-election bids of the state’s top two Democrats - Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall.

Salazar and his 19-year-old son, Josh, cut their vacation short and headed back to Denver, where a deal was announced Aug. 4, although there were times that it nearly collapsed.

Piecing together how the deal went down and the roles of the behind-the-scenes players and those in the limelight is a difficult task. Stories clashed.

The ballot measures would drive “gas patch” voters to the polls, which would help Democrats, some insisted. No, they were igniting conservatives, which would help Republicans in a year that already favored the GOP, others countered.

“The whole thing was an exercise in innuendo and hearsay,” said former Republican lawmaker and oil and gas consultant Josh Penry.

But in the process, the governor managed to counter the “lacks leadership” label Republicans have saddled him with ever since the fractious 2013 legislative session, with its battles over guns and renewable-energy mandates. Hickenlooper for weeks led the state through a minefield of negotiations, cajoling oil and gas executives united against Polis‘ measures but divided on how to proceed, and lining up support elsewhere.

Nearly every person interviewed by The Denver Post doubted that anyone but Hickenlooper, a former geologist who has allies in the energy and environmental communities, could have pulled off a compromise. Even Penry, known to verbally rough up Democratic governors, was impressed.

“I think persistence is definitely a leadership quality,” Penry said. “John Hickenlooper was persistent, and that’s to his credit.”

- The fight over fracking

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