Will Lafayette be the next Front Range community to stand up to Hickenlooper and the oil and gas industry?

Joel Dyer | Boulder Weekly

Not only are the towns of Erie and Lafayette in close proximity to one another, they share a great deal of history. Both communities owe their existence to the discovery of coal that fueled their early economies. The shafts of old mines still zig-zag just below the homes and businesses of these enclaves on the eastern plains.

Another common trait these communities have is that they are located on top of the Wattenberg field, a massive oil and gas play that covers much of Weld County and spills over into Boulder and Larimer counties as well. As a result, Erie and Lafayette are prime real estate for oil and gas companies looking to hydraulically fracture the shale and make millions of dollars from below their parks, schools and neighborhoods.

But there is at least one thing that many of the citizens of Lafayette have no intention of sharing with their neighbor to the north: a landscape decimated by drilling and hydraulic fracturing, with its dangerously high amounts of ground-level ozone, chemical spills and other potential air and water contamination problems.

Drilling and fracking was the issue of most interest among the citizenry at the Lafayette City Council meeting on Tuesday night, March 5. The first speaker of the night, Erie resident Rod Brueske, described his family’s plight to council.

“My family has been adversely affected,” said Brueske. “There are 124 cancer-causing agents flowing into my home.”

Earlier that same day, Brueske told BW how his young son developed frequent, severe nosebleeds shortly after nearby drilling caused an older well across the street from his Erie house to begin emitting contaminants into the air. He claims his family now suffers from a variety of health issues, including headaches and gastrointestinal problems.

Brueske concluded by telling the Lafayette council members that Lafayette should not make the mistakes that Erie’s elected leaders made. He told council that the oil and gas rules written by the state were not written to protect people, but rather to protect the oil and gas industry’s profits. He added, “You should not hesitate to write your own rules.”

One speaker after another, many of whom were members of East Boulder County United, a group opposed to drilling and fracking in Lafayette and Louisville, warned the council of the hazards of oil and gas extraction within the community. Several speakers requested that the city provide maps showing where all the active and abandoned wells within and around the city are located (See map above).

This information is critical because loopholes in the state’s oil and gas regulations allow the industry to re-enter currently active and possibly even plugged and abandoned wells for the purpose of drilling horizontal wells, and fracking those wells, regardless of how close to a home or business these old wells may be.

It is not an exaggeration to assume that Lafayette, unless its city council and/or citizens take action to stop it, could become the next Erie or Frederick. Drilling activity maps like the one above clearly show that the industry is pushing southwest from Weld County straight towards the heart of the town. It is simply a matter of time.

Lafayette resident and East Boulder County United member Cliff Willmeng told members of the city council that if they did not take action, Lafayette would end up like Erie, where more than 300 wells now exist, with more being added every month, or, worse yet, like Frederick, where more than 500 wells now fill the town.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, whose actions of late have demonstrated support for the oil and gas industry, has stated his intention to sue any community that attempts to create its own oil and gas regulations to protect its citizens’ health and property values.

Should the Lafayette city council decide to stand up to the governor’s threat, or at least be willing to place drilling and fracking restrictions on the ballot so Lafayette residents can make their own decision, the town will not be alone on Hickenlooper’s hit list.

Longmont is already being sued by the state for its citizen-passed fracking ban, and on March 5 the Fort Collins City Council voted 5-2 to also ban fracking within that Front Range community. Presumably Fort Collins, Colorado’s fourth-largest city, will be getting sued any day now.

The Lafayette City Council has signaled that, at a minimum, it is willing to enact an emergency moratorium on drilling within the city as soon as an oil and gas company seeks a permit to drill. It is unclear, however, if this ploy would thwart a company from re-entering an existing well, and at best it is, by definition, a temporary solution.

Even so, any delay in drilling and fracking activity within Boulder County affords the science a chance to catch up to the drilling rigs whose owners are moving as quickly as possible to tap our resouces before environmental and health regulations can be strengthened at any level of government.

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