Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Udall (D., Colo.) struggled during a debate with Rep. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.) when he was confronted with his remark that fracking "keeps us locked into the old system."
During the first debate last week in the close senate race, Rep. Gardner challenged Udall on hydraulic fracturing, the innovative natural gas extraction technique commonly known as fracking.
"You told a constituent recently in Alamosa that fracking keeps us locked into the old system," Gardner said. "What did you mean by that?"
After a long eight second pause Udall responded by questioning the accuracy of his own comments, which were recorded earlier this year.
"Fracking, as I said earlier, is an important part of the energy mix," he said. "I don’t know who this constituent was, I’ve not seen this report."
"You’ve had an interesting tendency in this debate, congressman, to pull facts and statements out of the air," Udall said, motioning with his hands. "I can tell you, we’re a best of the above energy state and in spite of what you’re trying to do and rather than divide us let’s work together. Colorado’s leading when it comes to all the energy technologies."
An audio recording reveals the exchange between Udall and a voter at a campaign event in Alamosa, Co., in April:
"This fracking, you know? They’re fracking in everybody’s back yard," a voter said.
"Yeah, it keeps us locked into the old system," Udall replied.
Energy has been an important issue in the Colorado Senate race. Udall has been careful about staking out a definitive position on fracking. His recently revealed comments on the practice stand in contrast to past statements that urge a "balance" between environmental concerns and natural gas development.
Udall ultimately came out against ballot initiatives proposed by Rep. Jared Polis (D., Colo.) that would have restricted fracking throughout the state, claiming that such restrictions would be a "one-size-fits-all" approach inappropriate for Colorado. Polis withdrew the initiatives last month.
On Tuesday, the Sierra Club endorsed Udall, on the basis that he could bring regulation to the fracking industry.
Udall is "best man to strike that balance between natural gas production and regulating fracking in Colorado," the Sierra Club said, according to the Hill.
The environmentalist group claims that fracking "damages the land, pollutes water and air, and causes illness in surrounding communities."
"It is also a major threat to our climate," the group said. "It is clear that we cannot transition from one fossil fuel to another and expect to see major climate benefits. We need to move beyond natural gas."
Udall’s wife, Maggie Fox, who recently appeared in an anti-fracking and anti-oil video produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, worked for the Sierra Club for 20 years.