Boulder residents: Ban fracking, stricter drilling regs aren’t enough

With the county’s five-year ban against fracking set to expire in May, the Boulder County Board of Commissioners is considering a long list of new regulations intended to keep the oil and gas industry on a tight leash.

But at a rally and in public comments to the commission Tuesday, Front Range residents made it clear that nothing short of a total fracking ban will be enough.

“I don’t want to be poisoned just a little,” said Stuart Paul, arguing that the only “safe” way to frack is to not frack at all.

Boulder has a short-term moratorium on drilling activities in place, but that is set to expire on May 1. County commissioners hope to have the updated regulations in effect by then in order to smoothly transition from an outright ban to a tight set of environmental and public safety protections.

If approved later this month, the new regulations would allow the county to closely scrutinize all proposed oil and gas projects, consider site-specific circumstances related to each drilling application and customize requirements for each project to ease the effects on residents and the local environment. Under the new rules, public input will be solicited for each proposesed oil and and gas site.

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled last May that long-term fracking bans are unconstitutional, because the state’s Oil and Gas Act preemptively allows for the development of fossil fuels. The ruling essentially confirmed that city and county governments have no local control over oil and gas drilling.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has filed a lawsuit against Boulder county over its temporary ban, which commissioners have repeatedly have extended since 2012.

But the hundred or so county residents at Tuesday’s meeting, clearly still energized from a rally before it started, weren’t willing to take no for an answer.

Mom and teacher Kristin McLean put it bluntly: “We want you to ban fracking. No more moratoriums.” She added, “If local people don’t have the right and the authority to do it, then those laws are unjust and made to be broken. We are taking our power back one way or the other.”

Civil disobedience came up repeatedly during the meeting, with many residents vowing to risk arrest and even incarceration in order to protect their families’ health and safety. Said McLean, “If the city and state fail to protect us, we have hundreds of thousands of people who will step up and do direct action.”

Last week, the Lafayette City Council removed a clause legalizing civil disobedience from a proposed Climate Bill of Rights. Attendees at Tuesday’s county commission meeting, many of whom were active in the push for Lafayette’s measure, called for a similar protection against nonviolent direct action in the defense of the climate in Boulder.

Assistant Attorney General Jake Matter reminded the audience that state law prohibits fracking bans. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association wrote to express concerns about the proposed regulations.

When one resident polled the audience for “supporters of fracking,” only about five audience members stood up. One was Brian Cain, a spokesman from Extraction Oil and Gas, the drilling operator currently planning a large development of 139 wells in Broomfield. When asked via text message about Extraction’s stance on the proposed regulations, Cain told The Colorado Independent that he was simply there to observe the proceedings. 

The rest of the audience seemed to have no patience for any oil and gas development within county limits. Jonathan Wallace, whose house backs up against the Boulder County line, said, “When they drill, we will not be there. We will move. We will be gone.”

Residents had three minutes each to make their cases. Many ended their time with the same imploring question: “Will you protect us, or will you poison us?”

The commissioners will meet again on Thursday, March 23 to vote on the regulations. There will be no public comment period at that time.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that when polled about whether they supported oil and gas activity, audience members raised their hands. They stood up.


Photo by Ted Wood, The Story Group