A grassroots anti-fracking organisation in Colorado, US, has shown that people power really works when it comes to challenging state legislation.
Frack Free Colorado led the charge to ban the controversial coal seam gas mining method and the group’s efforts were rewarded in November when residents in four major towns – Broomfield, Lafayette, Fort Collins and Boulder – voted on a citizen’s ballot initiative to ban fracking. Lawsuits are already underway by gas companies claiming local governments do not have the power to ban the process.
Suzanne Spiegel is the campaign co-ordinator at Frack Free Colorado and was one of the group’s earliest core members. She says fracking first started in Longmont and soon the whole state was at risk.
“Weld County is most fracked place in the whole United States. It’s a real warning. It’s got 20,000 wells. It’s the most densely fracked area in the whole country. It’s got wells right next to schools, right next to homes, right next to parks. There is no discrimination about where they’re fracking,” she says.
“Everywhere you go, you see a well. You can’t look around on the horizon and not see fracking sites. It’s like being in an industrial factory but on open space. It’s really a frightening place.
“They come in fast. Pennsylvania was first, then Texas. When they came to Colorado no one really knew, it wasn’t really on their radar. So they were like the testing ground. They got screwed.
“Of course there are people who don’t like it but after it happens, it’s too late.”
It wasn’t long before Boulder Country started discussing the possibility of allowing it’s moratorium to expire which would have allowed 1800 wells in Boulder County. “Three county commissions made the decision. It wasn’t in the hands of the people at all,” Spiegel says.
“When I heard this I was completely shocked that Boulder County was considering that. There was not anything really happening. There was no resistance.
“I saw it in one of the local newspapers. We were on the path to letting it happening.”
Spiegel and one of her friends created Boulderites Ban Fracking almost immediately and developed a Facebook page.
“We invited all our friends and create awareness among our community,” she says.
They held a meeting and one of the people in attendance was Russell Mendel who had seed funding from Patagonia, whose owners were the founders of Frack Free Colorado. The groups merged and the real fight began.
“We did it without any money. As long as you realise how much is at stake and you are committed, you can make it happen,” Spiegel says.
“We started having weekly meetings and we formed a core of people who showed up regularly. People who cared enough to keep coming.
“We started attending council meetings. We started sending all the scientific evidence to the commissioners. They didn’t care about that. It wasn’t about the facts, it was about the politics.
“We started doing a lot of social media stuff. One thing was a count-down until Boulder gets fracked. And every time I would do the countdown I would include horrible facts.
“I’m not sure about (Australian) laws but here doctors can’t tell patients what fracking fluid is in your blood. It’s some kind of non-disclosure agreement because it’s their (gas companies) secret patent.”
Spiegel said the group also developed a range of call-to-action postcards including beautiful locations, famous people and events. Many events would be synchronised with bigger events like Mother’s Day in order to garner a larger media interest.
“You need people to take little steps,” she says. “We had thousands of people emailing; all the postcards coming in.
“The commissioners decided fracking was going to go ahead anyway. “We called a lot of attention to the fact we were going to get fracked.”
This included distributing pictures of the commissioners with “failed” written across the photo.
“After the decision was made, people woke up. At the next (council) meeting the room was packed. The room was overflowing. There was a lot of pressure on the commissioners. Before that meeting thousands emailed and called. People were so fired up that Boulder was about to get fracked.
A public meeting was called and 250 people turned up. It became a rally.
“People were ready to act and give,’’ Ms Spiegel says.
“We trained in civil disobedience. Non-violent direct action. You can’t have a movement like this without discussing it. I think the reason we got the momentum we did, the reason we had the power we did, was because we discussed that.
“Our attitude was that we were fighting for our water, and our air, our human rights. So if there is not a political avenue for us, then we still refuse to accept. Fracking chases us off our land or poisons us on our land.
“People were so receptive to civil disobedience. We talked about what was happening around the country in civil disobedience. People were freaking out they were so excited.
“When people start getting arrested for a cause, people start to take notice. We had doctors and nurses ready to go stand in a line and commit civil disobedience in their scrubs.
“It’s an important thing to talk about. Who is willing to do it and how are you willing to do it?”
As well as discussing civil disobedience there was also a push for the commissioners to be recalled from office. The push to sack the commissioners and the civil obedience training attracted national media attention and the decision to frack Boulder was reversed.
Frack Free Colorado had become a powerful organisation and groups started forming in cities that were at risk of fracking.
“Each city has a core group,” Ms Spiegel says. “You need at least four or five people who are obsessed. This becomes their mission.”
It was this obsession that led to fracking becoming a major issue in this year’s citizen’s ballot initiative for Colorado. It was a resounding success with the vote to ban fracking passed in all four cities.
The ballots are held each state ever non-presidential election year. The ballot has dozens of questions – on any manner of issues – for voters to consider. Getting a question on the ballot requires thousands of signatures and support from the legislature. Although the vote is binding counties in Colorado are now facing legal action from the gas companies who are arguing local governments have no rights to pass those kinds of laws.
Still, Frack Free Colorado believes it has made huge inroads in terms of galvanising communities.
“The benefits offracking are false promises,” Ms Spiegel says. “It’s the next bubble.
“People need to make it super clear this is a huge priority for voters.
“For years corporations have owned our politics and our politics have continued to trample on our human rights.
“We are coming to a tipping point ecologically and people are waking up to our human rights being quickly whittled down. It’s about having the attitude there is no other option because you are fighting for everything. If you have that attitude you will find solutions.
“When they say no through the traditional channels you just can’t accept it.”
Frack Free Colorado advice for fracking organisations:
Consistency – always be doing stuff;
Be in people’s email inbox;
Form a group that meets regularly – have your core group meeting that meets at least once a week;
Use non-traditional ways to get attention. The gas companies can afford adverts. Find someone good at PR who can distribute your videos to media;
If you have big meetings pass the hat;
Inspire people rather than scare them. Give people ways to take action;
Be solution oriented, and
Don’t take no for an answer.
Just in – a republican urging gas companies not to sue …