Anti-fracking Protest Forces Lafayette City Council to Adjourn Early, Suspend Vote on New Drilling Rules
An impromptu protest from anti-fracking activists on the floor of Lafayette’s City Council meeting Tuesday forced officials to abruptly adjourn, suspending the leadership’s planned vote to revamp the city’s oil and gas rules .
The cancellation came just minutes into council’s discussion. It was preceded by an hour of public comment, during which residents, including the prominent activist group East Boulder County United, reproached the council for what many of them allege are new rules that would conflict with the city’s existing legislation.
Shortly after Jeffrey Robbins, the attorney that has shepherded the city’s proposed regulation overhaul to the tune of $300 per hour, took to the podium to speak, protestors in attendance stood up and shouted, “mic check,” followed by a litany of chants.
“We are the people of Lafayette, Colorado,” they shouted. “We are the people of Boulder County. We will not be silenced. No drills! No pipelines!”
Council chambers were quickly transformed into an ad-hoc singalong and rally in the minutes after leaders left the building, with dozens of remaining protesters forming a circle and posing for photos together.
Apart from the lambasting given from residents throughout Tuesday’s public hearing, children pressed signs against the council chamber’s back glass reading “no drilling, no pipelines,” and a slew of residents filled the lobby in a last ditch effort to persuade leaders to vote against the new rules.
“The fact that all of you live in this community,” Lafayette resident Annie Sweeney told council members, “and yet you continue to sit complacently in your chairs behind your microphones, typically not looking at me, telling me you’re doing everything you can to fight fracking, and instead you’re regulating it.
“I implore you as a mother not to poison your children, my children, our children.”
The group has threatened to sue the city if it approves the proposed regulations, arguing that any efforts by the city to regulate oil and gas would conflict with the recently passed Climate Bill of Right’s effective ban on any new drilling .
The activist-born measure that called for the sanctioning of civil disobedience and direct-action protest in the face of drilling plans was gutted of its enforcement clause prior to approval last year.
Each effort from council members to quell the crowd before eventually calling the meeting short was met with jeers and boos.
“The vote to legalize drilling in (Lafayette) was shut down by the people tonight,” Cliff Willmeng, a founding member of the activist group, said after Tuesday’s meeting disbanded. “The meeting was adjourned and the Climate Bill of Rights remains the law of the land.”
If eventually approved — which will still require two readings to pass officially — the new rules would include a mapping of flow lines throughout the city, setback requirements, community engagement, and ground and air pollution mitigation.
It would also bar a pipeline from being closer than 150 feet to a residential, commercial or industrial building, or “a place of public assembly.” When officials first discussed revamped rules last fall, they suggested setback distances of as mush as 750 feet.
Not everyone in attendance Tuesday shared the more hardline resistance to regulations efforts; Laura Snider told council that while a ban on fracking is ultimately preferable, the city must work with what it has at the moment.
“Unlike a lot of people in this room I see regulations as an important backup plan,” she said. “Should we lose the battle to ban fracking, I want regulations that are on the books that aren’t decades old.”
Additionally, the revamped code would require fairly comprehensive mitigation efforts for oil and gas development on air and nearby water quality.
The new drilling rules are fashioned almost identically to those administered by Boulder County.
“It’s not a surprise that people are pissed off at this (expletive),” Lafayette Councilwoman Merrily Mazza said after Tuesday’s meeting. “They’re not buying the regulations, and frankly I’m not buying them either.”
It’s unclear when City Council will bring the proposal back for council discussion, though they are likely to reconvene on the issue next month.
Anthony Hahn: 303-473-1422, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/_anthonyhahn