Civil Disobedience to Civil Service

ERIE — Sitting on a park bench in Erie, a town north of metro Denver along Colorado’s heavily populated Front Range, town councilman Christiaan van Woudenberg looks out at a 40-foot high beige sound wall surrounding a massive oil and gas production facility.

The noise from drilling cuts through the air, foul fumes that drift through in waves, and the bright night lights that come with expanded fossil fuel production have become major concerns for van Woudenberg’s constituents.

He knows these side effects all too well. Oil and gas companies have installed wells near his own home in a neighborhood on the south side of Erie.

First, van Woudenberg fought the fossil fuel industry as a grassroots activist, veering towards acts of civil disobedience.

Now he is a town councilman. He still continues his activism outside of the local government, identifying himself as an activist on his Erie Protectors website.

The problem with working purely through local government, van Woudenberg says, is that the Colorado state government takes away local government’s power to protect residents and their land against encroachments by the oil and gas industry.

Van Woudenberg has flown drones over the sound walls to see exactly what is happening inside, and using social media to share those images to the residents and the rest of the world.

He challenges the use of sound walls. “Their stated purpose is to reduce noise, but they’re also a very convenient obscuring factor for these heavy industrial operations,” van Woudenberg said.

He has also projected giant anti-fracking slogans onto the sound walls, one saying “ecotrosity,” one “ban fracking.” One image is a “wonderful red skull and crossbones,” van Woudenberg said.

Oil and gas companies requested and obtained a cease and desist order to block that practice.

Those tactics fall “very squarely for me into the standard dictionary definition of an activist: someone who takes action to promote social or political change,” van Woudenberg said. “So contrary to some others, I fully embrace the label and the role of activist.”

As a councilman he has supported the statewide ballot initiative, Proposition 112, that would require a buffer of 2,500 feet, a large increase from the current 500 feet. At 2,500 feet, residents will be safer from airborne pollutants he said.

The oil and gas industry has spent more than $30 million to oppose this proposition. Proponents of the bill, including Colorado Rising and van Woudenberg, have spent around $240,000 to support the proposition.

If the measure passes, lawmakers could easily challenge it.

“A lot of what I do as an activist and as a politician revolves around the concept of if you don’t try, you’ve already lost,” van Woudenberg said. “That’s where we are with Proposition 112.” 


On November 6, 2018 the proposition did not pass.

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