Erie’s fracking opponents get support from all corners

Published on: January 11th, 2012

If Erie residents who are concerned about hydraulic fracturing thought they would be alone in their fight against oil and gas companies, they may be pleasantly surprised to learn that they’re wrong.

Fracking—the practice of pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into wells to crack rock and release oil and gas—has generated opposition across the country due to fears that the practice is unsafe. U.S. officials quoted in a recent Bloomberg article say even though fracking has been a common practice for 65 years, not enough is known about the potential hazards of the chemicals used. Erie residents are worried about air and water pollution and many have reported health problems ranging from headaches to nosebleeds to gastrointestinal illness, according to recent articles in the Daily Camera. These complaints are echoed by people across the country living near fracking operations. If there’s any bright side to others experiencing similar symptoms, it’s that they’re eager to help those in Erie who have suddenly found themselves thrust into the national debate

Erie Rising, a 10-day-old grassroots group calling for oil and gas companies to prove that fracking is safe, has been fielding offers for help and assistance from as far away as New Mexico and California on its Facebook page. A Boulder group called Earth Guardians has offered to “join forces to stop fracking in Erie;” an anti-fracking coalition in Huerfano County has offered messages of support and advice; California-based Global Community Monitor has been in touch about DIY pollution monitoring; and activists in New Mexico have forwarded information and resources.

“We’ve even been contacted by a community in England that wants to support us,” said Erie Rising member April Beach, who emphasized that she is just one of scores working to hold companies accountable.

Such support is likely welcome after a packed meeting of the Board of Trustees Tuesday night, where the idea of a temporary moratorium on fracking operations was floated but ultimately not acted upon. More than 100 people attended to air their complaints. Some residents are reportedly so concerned that they are considering moving out of town and many described illnesses they attribute to oil and gas operations.

Beach said the point of the meeting was less about a possible moratorium (which she said Erie Rising members never officially requested), but to demonstrate that “the town doesn’t know as much as it should” about the potential health and environmental impact of the chemicals used.

Industry representatives—and those of the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which oversees drilling throughout the state—have said the practice is safe and well-regulated. Regardless, there’s little the town can do if it believes otherwise. Erie’s control over drilling operations is confined to land-use issues and local governments don’t have the power to banish oil and gas companies. In fact, as Erie residents packed Town Hall on Tuesday, Commerce City residents were listening to a panel of state experts tell them just that. Commerce City, like Longmont, instituted a moratorium on fracking in December, which will expire this month. Longmont’s expires in April.

Fracking opponents in Erie have more than just similarly affected civilians on their sides. On Monday, a group of doctors at a drilling conference at the George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington called for a nationwide moratorium on fracking until the health effects of chemicals used in the practice can be better understood.

We don’t have a great handle on the toxicology of fracking chemicals,” said Vikas Kapil, chief medical officer at National Center for Environmental Health, in an article in Bloomberg.

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