Not taking no for an answer: Meet the group demanding a Boulder County fracking ban
The group was small, but their message was firm: We will accept nothing short of a ban on fracking in Boulder County.
About 40 Boulder County residents took to the suburban streets of Lafayette Saturday morning to knock on County Commissioner Cindy Domenico’s front door and ask that she enact an outright ban on oil and gas drilling countywide.
State law preempts local governments from prohibiting fracking, and a Colorado Supreme Court ruling last year struck down bans in Longmont and Fort Collins.
Earlier this year, state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and the American Petroleum Institute filed a lawsuit against Boulder County challenging the legality of its moratorium, which has been in place since 2012. County commissioners recently approved a set of stricter regulations meant to prohibit unsafe or environmentally destructive drilling after the ban is set to expire on May 1.
Mothers Mary Willmeng and Theresa Stets and their daughters knocked on Domenico’s door, but her husband answered and said that she was not available at that moment. They thanked him and he closed the door.
The crowd then stood on the sidewalk and listened as Stets read the group’s demands aloud. Stricter regulations are not enough, she said. If the Boulder County Commissioners allow any kind of drilling, she added, they would be “complicit in the poisoning of our families and the destruction of our environment.”
Those at the event said that they would likely make similarly direct asks of the board’s other two commissioners, Elise Jones and Deb Gardner, but that Domenico was chosen because she, like them, lives in Lafayette.
Boulder’s Board of County Commissioners previously has expressed frustration with its inability to do more to keep fracking out of Boulder County.
“Like everyone we’ve heard from over the past several years, we are very concerned about the potential for expanded oil and gas activity in Boulder County,” Domenico said in a statement following the approval of the new regulations.
Calling the new rules “one of the few local control tools we have under current state law,” Domenico said, “This is only one piece of the puzzle. We will continue to examine every option available to us.”
She has not yet responded to requests for comment on this story.
But the dozens of protesters Saturday said that laws and court rulings shouldn’t be an excuse.
“We know that if the county commissioners take a stand and say we want to ban fracking… that there will be consequences, that there will be lawsuits, that they may have consequences from higher up in the Democratic Party,” said Lafayette resident Kristin McLean. “But what we’re saying is that what’s most important is that we protect our families, we protect our air and we protect our water. Somebody has to take a stand, no matter what the consequences.”
“You hear it over and over again: We’re powerless, our hands are tied,” said Lafayette resident Cliff Willmeng to the group during a debriefing session after the protest. “These are the words of victimization.”
Willmeng, a registered nurse, union member and the de facto leader of Lafayette’s anti-fracking group, East Boulder County United, often invokes history to make his point that unjust laws must be fought. The civil rights movement and the months-long action at Standing Rock are particular favorites.
“Of course Rosa Parks didn’t give up her seat, why would she?” he asked. “There was no reason for her to; in fact, there was reason for her to disobey the law. We have to be able to move ourselves beyond the narrative that we’ve been forced to accept, which is that we have to cooperate with this.”
Willmeng is still learning how to communicate his message to communities in the Front Range, where he says things like tone of voice matter more than he’s used to. Back in Chicago, where he cut his teeth with union organizing, “If you weren’t angry, if you weren’t yelling, you didn’t care enough.”
It’s a bit of a family fight. Willmeng’s wife and daughter were part of the group that knocked on Domenico’s door, and his mother, Merrily Mazza, has been a member of Lafayette’s City Council since 2014.
Both Mazza and Willmeng were instrumental in the passage of Lafayette’s Community Climate Bill of Rights, a resolution that guarantees residents the right to a healthy climate and environment.
Mazza acknowledged that County Commissioners feel their hands are tied, but said it is their actions, not their intentions, that matter here.
“What’s going to happen is they’re going to feel really bad, and Boulder County is going to get fracked, and they’ll feel really bad that eastern Boulder County is going to look like Erie, but that’s as far as they’re going to go,” she said. “Who cares if they feel bad about it?”
Operator Crestone Peak has already begun the application process to drill up to 216 wells in Boulder County.
The Board of Commissioners will hold a meeting on April 25 to discuss further options related to the regulation of fracking.
Top image: Members of East Boulder County United outside Boulder County Commissioner Cindy Domemico’s house in Lafayette. All photos by Kelsey Ray
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