A movement without borders

National anti-fracking summit to be held in Denver

Josh Lopez

Colorado is known nationally as a hotbed for both the oil and gas industry, as well as for the anti-fracking movement, particularily as the State battles local jurisdictions over fracking bans in the courts and has approximately 55,000 wells in production. This makes Denver the ideal location for the annual Stop the Frack Attack National Summit Oct. 3-5.

“Our theme for this year is escalating the fight between communities and the oil and gas industry,” says Robby Diesu, national organizer for Stop the Frack Attack (STFA). “What we hope to see out of this is an increase in resources for community groups and those fighting extraction on the ground.”

Colorado is the perfect place for the STFA annual summit, says Micah Parkin, executive director of 350 Colorado, a locally focused nonprofit dedicated to building a sustainable future through battling climate change. Although citizens have voted to ban fracking and moratoriums on drilling, the upcoming Colorado Supreme Court decision regarding the legitimacy of the fracking ban in Longmont and morato rium in Fort Collins brings national attention to the state.

“We all count on that our democratic rights won’t just be trampled over, but unfortunately that’s what we’re seeing here in Colorado,” Parkin says. She believes it’s that attack on democracy that is drawing national support to our state.

The summit gathers community activists, university professors, environmental lawyers and policy specialists to address the shifting strategies of the oil and gas industry, as it responds to the mounting citizen opposition to fracking that’s gaining momentum throughout the country. Sessions will cover community organizing, recent federal regulations, interacting with the courts, climate change and interacting with the Obama administration, as well as the presidential candidates.

“We’re all ready to take it to the next step,” says Karen Dike, spokesperson for Coloradans Against Fracking and resident of Longmont. The organization was part of the planning and steering committee for the summit. She says Colorado has been a “Free-for-all for the oil and gas industry [but we want] to give off the message that that’s not OK.”

STFA started in 2012, when 5,000 people rallied against fracking in Washington D.C. Since then, STFA has grown to include 136 member groups, from small, local grassroots organizations to larger environmental groups such as the national nonprofit Earthworks. “We’re the one central point where people can all meet and convene,” Diesu says.

The first STFA national summit occurred in Dallas, Texas in 2012 with 250 attendees. Colorado fractivist, Shane Davis, attended the event. “We had collective leaders from the antifracking movement from all over the U.S. coming together to share our tips and tricks … to really establish a point that can be accelerated moving forward,” Davis says.

The group took a break last year, focusing more on internal organization and building the national network through speaking tours. But this year, the steering committee and advisory council, including Davis, decided it was time to gather again, this time in Denver.

Davis says the focus this year is more about civil rights than anything else. “There’s a whole different context to this. Because we continue to understand more and more about the egregious nature of the fracking industry and their exemptions, which violate our civil rights…” he says. “The idea is that we are collectively coming together in solidarity on this fracking issue and really letting our politicians know that we are serious.”

Diesu expects over 200 conference participants from 28 states and the District of Columbia, as well as possible participants from Canada and the UK.

“This is a borderless movement,” Davis says. “We get so many people that can attach themselves personally. There are so many different ideologies coming together. I think that’s to our advantage. We can see which ones are going to work where, and we have a massive network that is growing.”

Davis will give the opening keynote address at the SFTA summit Saturday morning and the evening address will be given by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author and activist Chris Hedges.

“He is just an amazing mind who has this X-ray vision through this capitalistic empire that is basically controlling all of our energy needs,” Davis says. “Chris Hedges really lays the groundwork so that we can all truly understand the root of these problems not just this topical version that we’ve been force to read.”

Other speakers include Madeline Stano, a lawyer with the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment heading up the organization’s civil rights and anit-fracking campaigns in California; Glen Miller, professor at the University of Nevada Reno natural resources and environmental science department; Maya van Rossum from the Delaware Riverkeeper network; and Anthony Ingraffea a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University and co-author of several studies exposing the severity of methane as a greenhouse gas and the leakage rates at natural gas facilities.

Ingraffea is the “godfather of fracking,” Davis says. “He really can see the good, bad and the ugly. He understands the engineering of fracking and why it’s an ugly technology. He’s going to tell you the truth. There’s no sugarcoating on that.”

The anti-fracking movement draws people with a variety of backgrounds and concerns, many of whom will attend the summit in Denver. Organic farmers worry about how fracking affects the quality of the land; others take issue with water pollution resulting from fracking; still others are affected by the industrialization oil and gas development can bring to a community; others are concerned about air quality issues.

“The reasons to stop fracking are because of the environmental damage that is being done,” Dike says. “That environmental damage is causing air pollution, water pollution and land pollution. And that pollution is affecting our health.”

As a retired nurse, Dike is mostly concerned with the health implications caused by fracking. She anticipates learning more about this issue with the screening of GASWORK: The fight for CJ’s Law, a short documentary by Gasland-filmmaker Josh Fox. The film investigates the conditions of workers in the oil and gas fields, exposing the health risks that come along with fracking. “The people in those homes are going to have many of the same health problems that the workers have,” Dike says.

Along with the film screening and keynote addresses, the STFA will have a number of study sessions, focused around certain topics and creating space for brainstorming effective collaboration techniques. “The group brain, I think, is a powerful thing,” Parkin says. “Obviously there is so much more that you can do when you have a lot of groups coming together than any one individual group can do alone.”

Dike is also looking forward to brainstorming with people who were part of the the successful fracking ban in New York state earlier this summer and in Denton, Texas, although the latter has since been repealed following state legislation that prohibits local jurisdictions from adopting such bans.

And while the conference officially ends on Sunday, Monday morning anti-fracking supporters will gather in Commons Park in downtown Denver for a Stop the Frack Attack rally. The group will march throughout the city inducting people into a “hall of shame” along the way. “We want to call people out, corporations, governmental institutions that have been failing us and not helping to address the issues around fracking,” says Parkin, the main organizer behind the rally.

The march will culminate in a permitted event on the capital steps, where speakers will share how fracking has adversely affected their families, friends and communities. Coloradans Against Fracking will also publically reject the legitimacy of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), as they did in early August at a public meeting in Greeley.

After the Denver summit, STFA is preparing for their next conference: Paris in December. Gathering around the United Nations Climate Change Conference, 100 people from around the world (Central Asia, Tunisia, the UK, etc.) will discuss the impacts of fracking in their home countries as part of the STFA summit. The goal is to “build structure to make sure that natural gas is not used as a bridge to nowhere in climate negotiations,” Diesu says.

Many delegates from the Denver summit will also attend the conference in Paris, including Davis and he will be bringing the perspective he’s gained here to the international stage. “It really paints the bigger canvas of the atrocities that the fracking industry is doing all across America,” Davis says. “We do have similarities, we do have differences, but bringing all these people together really increases their comprehensive awareness of how bad this industry is in all parts of the world, not just in our backyards.”