One little US town is showing the world how a small community can take on big oil and gas. Lafayette, Colo. (pop. 25,733) was unhappily facing fracking within their town area. The citizens banded together with environmental groups and amended their Community Bill of Rights to secure their right to clean air, pure water, and the rights of ecosystems to exist and flourish.
Besides Lafayette’s stand, moratoriums and bans have been enacted in six small cities and towns with a combined total of more than 400,000 citizens.
The Community Bill of Rights was amended on November 6, Election Day. The margin for the vote was nearly 60 percent, and in nearby Oberlin, OH. (pop. 8,286) the vote was over 70 percent in favor.
The vote was held after an employee of Halliburton, the world’s second largest oil field services company, filed a complaint with the elections board that the amendment being proposed by the community would have to include a summary of the measure according to state law.
The petitioners included the entirety of the amendment language, and the city clerk, Susan Koster, threw out the petition challenge, stating, “As a home rule city, Lafayette operates under a citizen adopted charter. In the case of this protest, the petition submitted to amend the City’s Charter complied with the Colorado Home Rule Act.”
Among the other challenges anti-fracking citizens faced were the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s (COGA) $66,974 investment in local media and claims that the “Bowling Green” charter amendment would kill jobs and raise energy costs buy over 80 percent.
The city itself enacted an ordinance that banned fracking. This was a way of dissuading voters from voting for the charter amendment, according to the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF),which helped craft the Community Bill of Rights, because the ordinance was subject to being rescinded by the Council after the election was over. Similar actions had recently succeeded in nearby Broadview Heights and Mansfield, OH, according to CELDF.
However, Lafayette voted to adopt the charter amendment, banning fracking.
One month later, COGA filed suit against the city in attempt to overturn the fracking ban.
Then, energy industry representatives began private meetings with Gov. John Hickenlooper. Eleven environmental groups formally requested to be present at any such meetings.
“Apparently, it is now simply business as usual to shut out the voice of the people when making decisions that effect us all,” said the president of Protect our Loveland, Sharon J. Carlisle. “We demand our rightful place in your smoke-filled, oil- and gas-filled rooms of secret wheelings and dealings.”
Hickenlooper approved a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s lawsuit with Longmont City in an attempt to overturn that city’s fracking ban last summer, but weeks later admitted fracking was something “no one wants in their backyard.”
Reacting to the COGA suit, Lafayete residents filed a class-action lawsuit against COGA, the state of Colorado and Hickenlooper. The lawsuit is the first of its kind. Although the particular focus of the suit is fracking, it insists on the right of local self governance for citizens, protected through a community bill of rights. The residents’ suit alleges that their right to self governance is guaranteed by the US Constitution, the COGA Act infringes that right, and Colorado officials are guilty of not enforcing the ban on fracking. The residents allege that the ban passed in November was not being enforced.
CELDF executive director, Thomas Linzey, Esq., said of the suit, “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.
“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.”
Halliburton Co. is incorporated in the US, where its headquarters is in Houston, TX., but its chairman and CEO, David Lesar, works and lives in Dubai, where Halliburton’s other headquarters is located.
The company took in $5 billion of profits for the past three fiscal years, and billions in the years before.
Halliburton has recently been the source of several controversies. In 2013, the company pled guilty on charges of destroying evidence relating to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, incurring a $200,000 statutory fine. In addition, Halliburton has been implicated in the creation of a toxic cloud that forced evacuations in Farmington, New Mexico in 2006, and it may also be implicated in spill in a 2009 Timor Sea off Australia and a 2010 improper cementing in the Gulf of Mexico.
By Day Blakely Donaldson