In Colorado 'Sacrifice Zone,' Break Free Protest Escalates Fight Against Fossil Fuels

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In Colorado 'Sacrifice Zone,' Break Free Protest Escalates Fight Against Fossil Fuels

"It's time for the people to step up and escalate and really create more of a global wave of resistance to keep fossil fuels in the ground."

"Along with all of the surrounding Rocky Mountain West, Coloradans are actively fighting the fossil fuel industry on all fronts." (Photo: @MattOakland/Twitter)

Days after the Colorado Supreme Court denied two cities local authority to regulate fracking, hundreds of climate activists descended Thursday on a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oil and gas lease auction in Lakewood, just outside Denver, kicking off four days of major direct actions against fossil fuels across the United States.

In addition to the Lakewood demonstration and a larger mobilization elsewhere in Colorado on Saturday, protests and civil disobedience actions are scheduled to take place between Thursday and Sunday in and around Anacortes, Washington; Albany, New York; Los Angeles; Washington, D.C., and Chicago, all under the Break Free banner.

Already, the movement has touched down in Philadelphia, upstate New York, and other locations around the globe. 

"The right that corporations have to [extract fossil fuels] does not usurp our most basic rights to an atmosphere that can sustain life as we know it," said Micah Parkin, executive director of 350 Colorado, the state affiliate for grassroots group 350.org, which is backing the global movement.

"The idea behind Break Free," she said, "is that it's time for the people to step up and escalate and really create more of a global wave of resistance to keep fossil fuels in the ground."

"Colorado and the public lands of the West are being treated as a sacrifice zone, with corporations profiting from the destruction of our communities, the landscape, and the people’s health," said Remy, a Boulder-based artist and activist with First Seven Design Labs who took part in the BLM protest. "As an Indigenous person, the language behind 'keep it in the ground' has been passed down to me from my elders. It's about respecting the land and the earth, and it's about justice for people who are being denied it."

Similar demonstrations have successfully shut down or disrupted recent BLM auctions in Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and other states. 

Thursday's action will be followed on Saturday by Break Free Colorado's "Frontline Fracking Defense" rally in Thornton, featuring 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben among other speakers. Parkin, who told Boulder Weekly there are four sites in the area set to start drilling operations in June, predicted the event will be the state's "largest ever climate and clean energy mobilization."

"Along with all of the surrounding Rocky Mountain West, Coloradans are actively fighting the fossil fuel industry on all fronts: in courts, at the ballot box, and in neighborhoods, demanding a stop to the onslaught of fracking wells, oil fields, mines, and the harm they bring to communities and the landscape," organizers wrote in a press statement.

"The urgency to act," the statement continues, "has been amplified by recent moves to undermine Coloradans' ability to express their will democratically, including the Colorado Supreme Court's decision to deny local authorities the right to regulate fracking."

In turn, organizers say, "Coloradans are working to protect themselves with two remaining tools: peaceful direct action and two Yes for Health and Safety Over Fracking ballot initiatives that would 1) give local communities constitutional authority to pass local bans and moratoria on fracking and 2) create 2,500-foot setbacks for fracking from any home, school, park, or waterway."

The last point is important, since a newly published peer-reviewed study shows that airborne pollutants associated with fracking and drilling are "linked to adverse respiratory health effects, particularly in infants and children."

Reporting on the study on Thursday, Sharon Kelly writes for DeSmog Blog:

Based on the risks associated with breathing air laced with the five most-studied pollutants, the researchers expressed concern about fracking near homes, day cares, and schools. “We recommend that at a minimum, one-mile setbacks should be established between drilling facilities and occupied dwellings such as schools, hospitals, and other dwellings where infants and children might spend a substantial amount of time,” they wrote.

But state rules generally fall far short of that buffer zone. There is no national data available on how many schools or childcare facilities are now within a mile of a fracked well, in part because there are no federal regulations requiring the industry to track that data. Each individual state sets different rules controlling how far well pads must be from schools – and those rules vary widely across the U.S.

"In four northern Colorado counties," Kelly reports, "researchers from the Western Resource Advocates found 32 schools within just 1,000 feet of a fracked well in 2012."

To that end, Parkin said of Saturday's protest: "We really want to bring the public's attention to this frack site and how completely inappropriate it would be in this neighborhood."

Other Break Free actions took place Thursday in Nigeria, South Africa, and New Zealand.

Follow the movement in Colorado and beyond under #BreakFree2016:

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