DENVER, CO – Today, hundreds joined Colorado’s first “online rally & press conference” during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The event, originally planned to take place at Bella Romero Academy, was hosted by 35 nonprofit organizations and local community members who collectively demanded Governor Jared Polis to suspend operations at Extraction Oil and Gas’ fracking pad just 1,000 ft. from Bella Romero Academy 4-8 campus. As public health officials continue to recommend social distancing for protection from COVID-19, activist groups are utilizing creative organizing strategies to continue campaigns to protect communities from fracking and solve the climate crisis.
The rally and press conference came in response to a new report from nonprofit 350 Colorado that revealed students and staff at Bella Romero Academy were exposed to multiple periods of unsafe levels (that exceeded health standards appropriate for schools) of benzene, a known carcinogen, from nearby fracking operations while the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE) conducted air quality monitoring May 6, 2019 to December 20, 2019. The CDPHE only warned the community of one instance of benzene exceedance based upon reference to an insufficiently protective standard inappropriate for a school setting with vulnerable populations of children.
“Protection of public health and safety is our top objective. In the wake of this crisis, we are working to ensure all members of our movement stay safe, but we are not going anywhere. We will continue to evolve our tactics and be creative, we will continue training and educating each other, and we will stay strong together in calling on Governor Jared Polis to immediately end the fracking at Bella Romero,” said Julia Williams, Communications Director of 350 Colorado.
Local community members, 350 Colorado and allies presented these findings to CDPHE staff on Wednesday morning. They are calling on Governor Polis to direct the CDPHE to take the following immediate actions. First, suspend Extraction’s operations at Bella Romero Academy and shut in the wells. Second, adopt the most protective standards for toxic emissions from oil and gas sites near occupied buildings and especially by schools. Third, preemptively model and continuously monitor the emissions at these sites and make the data available to the public in real time online. Fourth, issue warnings whenever these thresholds are approached and immediately shut down operations if they exceed standards. They warn that the current lack of oversight leaves millions of Coloradans at significant risk.
“CDPHE representatives have been insisting that there would be no negative health effects from the exposure,” said Bella Romero parent Patricia Nelson. “By burying data and cherry-picking health standards, while allowing fracking to continue, Governor Polis and the CDPHE have abandoned protection for our school, which is primarily a low-income community of color. They are turning a blind eye to a clear case of environmental racism.”
Hundreds joined the rally via Zoom and Facebook live, even joining together in song with banners at the end. Community members are gathering signatures on a petition demanding the immediate suspension of drilling and production at Bella Romero, the petition.
“I get told as young person, that I need to first understand economics in order to change the climate. No, I understand economics. You can’t play economics with climate change. Either you’re alive or you’re dead. Climate Change is not a business deal. You can’t negotiate the climate with Mother Nature.” – Jeeva Senthilnathan of Colorado Climate Strike.
“The World Health Organization flatly states that no level of exposure to benzene is safe, and we are talking about vulnerable children here. At the very least, the state needs to adopt stringent standards, pollution levels need to be dramatically reduced or eliminated, there should be continuous monitoring, and data need to be freely provided to the school, parents, and the public in real-time. Look at all the dramatic things we are doing to protect ourselves from the COVID virus, even to the point of disrupting many of our social and economic activities. Why can’t we take a few steps to protect our children?” – Ramesh Bhatt, Chair of the Conservation Committee of the Colorado Sierra Club.
“There’s no reason any mother and father should have to worry about their child at school having exposures like this. The measurements showed very concerning levels. Benzene particularly is something we have to be worried about. Exposure to this short term you can get dizzy, drowsy, headaches, confusion, tremors, loss of consciousness and at high enough levels it can kill you. The biggest concern is chronic exposure which can lead to changes in the bone marrow causing severe anemia and at high enough levels it can lead to a cancer called Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). These measurements showed high levels that shouldn’t happen to anyone, let alone children. PSR’s advice to regulators in this case is that we need to use the 8-hour standard developed in CA. We recommend that the regulators stop the production at this site. In the last few weeks, we have shut down major events affecting millions of people worldwide due to the potential risk of Coronavirus. I would argue that benzene exposure is a bit more dangerous. Bottom line, if we can do shut down everything across the world, there’s no reason we can’t make this decision at Bella Romero and get the oil and gas out of their lives.” – Dr. Cory Carroll, Colorado Chairman of Physicians for Social Responsibility
“We know the NAACP is the country’s oldest and largest civil rights organization and places climate and environmental justice at the center as an intersectional issue affecting all that we do. As a litigant in the fight to bring justice to Bella Romero, we now know definitively that students, staff and community members are all exposed to levels of benzene above 8 hour health standards that are most appropriate for schools. This exposure comes from Extraction’s fracking site, and it is a presence that the NAACP and others have fought for more than three years. Environmental injustices have disproportionate negative impacts on communities of color and the hard working community at Bella Romero which includes families challenged by both immigrant and refugee status. They deserve better than this. NAACP state conference calls on Governor Polis to bring justice to injustice, to bring justice to an unjust situation and to ensure that these operations are suspended and that the wells are shut in behind Bella Romero.” – Rosemary Lytle, State President, NAACP – CO, MT, WY
“We are in the midst of an environmental justice concern the likes of which has triggered action around the state of Colorado. We’ve seen environmental racism in Colorado in the shadow of Suncor, along these fracking sites, or around highway expansions. Every step of the way the Latino people continue to speak up and we are telling Governor Polis loud and clear, if you are not willing to step up and be bold, why did you bother to come into our communities and tell us that you were going to be on our side? This is the time for bold action. Teachers deserve to work in safe conditions and not be exposed to high levels of benzene or any toxics. It is not justice for workers to work in these conditions.” – Ean Tafoya, Colorado Latino Forum and GreenLatinos
“Gov Polis does have the power, like he’s done with the Coronavirus, to fight oil and gas, he’s just afraid. So we have to help give him courage. He has to feel he has enough backing because we really need to create a change from this place of a paradigm of power and greed to a place of power, peace, prayer and love. We need to come together as One family of Humankind that need to protect each other, Grandmother Earth and All Living Beings. The Corona virus and all the other natural disasters are all an outgrowth of power and greed in our country and abroad. Fracking , oil and gas must stop! It will kill our children with the unsafe levels of Benzene and Methane, which will hurt more people long term than the corona virus. If Gov. Polis can declare a state a state of emergency for the corona virus, the same should happen to protect the children of Bella Romero and Niwot High School and all their staff. It is time to save Colorado for its citizens, the plant kingdoms that we rely on and All Living Beings that lie here.” – Dr. Maria Michael, Indigenous Leader
“I am here today to lift up the voice of faith communities across Colorado, in Together Colorado, the Poor People’s Campaign, Catholic Network and Call to Action to insist on the right and ability of all to live and breathe in health and without the threats, the real harms imposed by these wells. The first duty of a government is to protect the people, and that is not happening here. The four requests we are making today – closure of the wells by Bella Romero immediately and continuous monitoring of fracking wells, information access, and protection of Coloradans — are moral and ethical necessities.” – Marie Venner, Together Colorado, Catholic Network and Call to Action
“With no discussion in 2011, wells on 15 school sites were approved. Here in Greeley we have around 700 wells and 1,000 wells within a half mile of city limits. We are doing triage here. We are concerned about the use of water with fracking and the connections to global warming. The school board has never been in favor of these wells. It has been a relentless effort to keep these wells away from schools and our worst fears have been realized.” – Thesese Gilbert, Weld Air and Water
The press conference was hosted by: Parents, neighbors, youth strikers, and nonprofit organizations including 350CO, 350 Northern Colorado, Be The Change, Broomfield Clean Air and Water, Broomfield Moms Active Community, Call to Action, Catholic Network, Clean Energy Action, Climate Reality of Northern Colorado, Colorado Climate Strikes, Colorado Coalition for a Livable Climate, Colorado Rising, Colorado Sierra Club, Erie Protectors, Extinction Rebellion Denver, Extinction Rebellion Boulder, Fort Collins Sustainability Group, Frack Free Colorado, Greenpeace Denver, Indivisible Denver, Larimer Alliance, North Range Concerned Citizens, Physicians for Social Responsibility Colorado, The Lookout Alliance, Sunrise Movement, Together Colorado, Wall of Women, Weld Air & Water, What the Frack Arapahoe, and WildEarth Guardians.
About 350 Colorado:
350 Colorado is a nonprofit organization working locally to help build the global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis and transition to a sustainable future. For more information visit: www.350Colorado.org or find us on social media @350Colorado.