Colorado residents sue state, governor in defense of local fracking ban
Two residents of Lafayette, Colorado are suing the state, Gov. John Hickenlooper, and energy trade group Colorado Oil and Gas Association to defend the city’s fracking ban, which was passed last fall in a city-wide vote.
The class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday in Boulder County District Court comes in response to a separate suit filed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) in December that seeks to negate Lafayette’s ban on new oil and gas extraction in the city. Sixty percent of Lafayette voters supported the measure to curb hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in November.
Lafayette residents Ann Griffin and Cliff Wilmeng, of the anti-fracking organization East Boulder County United, filed the suit that is seeking to dismiss COGA’s December lawsuit while calling for the protection of citizens’ right to self-governance pursuant to local laws and statutes.
In their complaint, Griffin and Wilmeng are requesting the court to issue injunctions "enjoining the defendants from attempting to enforce the Oil and Gas Act against the plaintiffs and the people of the city of Lafayette to invalidate the charter amendment," as well as "any future enforcement" of the act, according to the Boulder Daily Camera.
"This suit enforces Lafayette residents' fundamental rights, which are being directly threatened by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association," said Willmeng in a statement. "We had to take action to protect this community, its families and property, and we will continue to assert our rights to health, safety and welfare. These fundamental rights are not subordinate to corporate privilege, and they are not the property of the governor or the state of Colorado to either give away or to overrule."
COGA, which says it “aggressively promotes” natural gas expansion in Colorado, represents major state interests that oppose moratoriums or bans in cities like Lafayette, as well as Longmont, Broomfield, Boulder, and Fort Collins.
In a statement at the time of their filing in December, COGA said Lafayette’s ban violates state law because "state regulations specify and the state Supreme Court has ruled that oil and gas development, which must employ hydraulic fracturing or fracking, supersedes local laws and cannot be banned."
“It is regrettable and unfortunate that COGA had to take this action,” Tisha Schuller, the association’s president, said in a December statement. “There are over 100,000 families that rely on the oil and gas industry for their livelihoods and these bans effectively stop oil and gas development.”
“With 95 percent of all wells in Colorado hydraulically fractured, any ban on fracking is a ban on oil and gas development,” she said.
The Lafayette residents’ lawsuit comes one day after Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper postponed a special legislative session to address concerns about the state’s control over natural resource extraction – and localities trying to usurp that control.
The failure to hold the special session indicates a lack of support from negotiating parties for a draft bill that would “clarify powers held by state, county and city authorities in Colorado to regulate oil-and-gas drilling,”according to The Colorado Independent.
Meanwhile, supporters of local rights hailed the Lafayette lawsuit as part of a movement in which communities will fight state governments’ edicts on energy extraction that, by and large, benefit connected, corporate players.
“This class action lawsuit is merely the first of many by people across the United States whose constitutional rights to govern their own communities are routinely violated by state governments working in concert with the corporations that they ostensibly regulate,” said Thomas Linzey, Esq., executive director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which helped Lafayette craft its Community Bill of Rights.
“The people of Lafayette will not stand idly by as their rights are negotiated away by oil and gas corporations, their state government, and their own municipal government,” he added, according to EcoWatch.
The fracking process entails blasting fissures in rocks thousands of meters under the earth with water and sand to release trapped deposits of oil and gas.
Fracking has been associated with a multitude of dangers to human and environmental health, including groundwater contamination, air pollution, migration of gases and chemicals to the ground’s surface, increase of atmospheric CO2 levels, and heightenedearthquake activity.