Oil and gas opponents in Lafayette have collected enough valid signatures to put a fracking ban in front of voters on the November ballot, the city confirmed Friday.

Lafayette spokeswoman Debbie Wilmot said the city clerk verified 1,059 signatures out of more than 2,000 submitted earlier this month. A total of 948 valid signatures was needed.

The City Council still needs to refer the measure to the ballot. It is scheduled to take up the issue at its Aug. 6 meeting.

"We see this as a movement that is bigger than Lafayette," said Cliff Willmeng, spokesman for citizen activist group East Boulder County United. "This is a movement that is going to place community rights and self-defense against corporate interests."

East Boulder County United rallied a team of volunteers to collect signatures in support of its measure, dubbed the Lafayette Community Rights Act. The act would prohibit any new oil and gas extraction in Lafayette, including any hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and would disallow the disposal of associated waste products inside the city.

The news comes the same week that Loveland verified more than 2,200 voter signatures in support of a two-year moratorium on fracking, a process in which a mixture of sand, water and chemicals -- some of which have been linked to cancer -- is injected underground under high pressure to crack layers of shale and release hard-to-access oil and gas deposits.

Meanwhile, residents in Broomfield and Fort Collins have launched their own signature-gathering efforts to halt fracking for five years. And the Boulder City Council is also considering placing a five-year fracking moratorium on the November ballot.

Willmeng said he expects opposition to energy extraction near cities and towns in Colorado to increase as people learn about the hazards of a heavily industrialized activity occurring in their backyards.

"There's no question we're experiencing a prairie fire of involvement on this issue," he said.

The oil and gas industry vigorously disputes that fracking causes health problems and says the practice has been used safely by energy companies for decades.

Doug Flanders, director of policy and external affairs for the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said opposition to fracking is not as widespread as anti-oil and gas groups contend.

"While we will be studying the language in Lafayette, we do understand in Loveland a group of community and civic leaders have already organized to communicate with citizens about the negative impacts of bans, and we're hopeful the same thing happens in every community that is facing the same loss of economic vitality and tax revenues that communities such as Lafayette and Loveland face," he said.

Flanders wouldn't specifically say whether his organization would directly campaign against the Lafayette measure, but he said the Colorado Oil & Gas Association "will offer any support we can" to those opposing it.

Willmeng said that he and other fracking opponents were not deterred by the results of a federal study released this week concluding that there is no evidence that chemicals from natural gas drilling activity in Pennsylvania contaminated drinking water aquifers there.

The study, from the U.S. Department of Energy, found that the chemicals used in the fracking process stayed thousands of feet below the level where drinking water typically occurs.

Willmeng said the study only ran for a year and was limited to a small number of wells.

"We know scientifically that (well) casings fail over time," he said. "The study didn't conclude what these chemicals would do over time."

Willmeng acknowledged that Lafayette could face litigation from the Colorado Oil & Gas Association and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, both of which filed suit against Longmont after voters there approved a fracking ban last fall.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state's regulatory body over the oil and gas industry, asserts that municipalities do not have the power to ban energy extraction activities in the state, but rather are limited to enforcing local land use codes -- such as noise levels, road impacts and lighting related to drilling activity.

The case against Longmont is still making its way through the courts.

"We look at this as a civil rights movement," Willmeng said. "There has never been a civil rights movement that hasn't come up against the people and the corporations profiting off that system."

And the Lafayette Community Rights Act is important even though there hasn't been an application submitted for a new well permit in the city in more than a decade, Willmeng said. With hundreds of wells in operation in Erie and several proposed for Broomfield, fracking activity is getting too close for comfort, he said.

There are 14 active gas wells in Lafayette, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Those wells wouldn't be affected by the proposed ban.

Contact Camera Staff Writer John Aguilar at 303-473-1389, aguilarj@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/abuvthefold. ___

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  • SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 30: Protestors stage a demonstration against fracking in California outside of the Hiram W. Johnson State Office Building on May 30, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Dozens of protesters with the group Californians Against Fracking staged a protest outside of California Gov. Jerry Brown's San Francisco offices demanding that Gov. Brown ban fracking in the state. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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  • In this Nov. 26, 2012 photo, Steve Lipsky demonstrates how his well water ignites when he puts a flame to the flowing well spigot outside his family's home in rural Parker County near Weatherford, Texas. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had evidence a gas company's drilling operation contaminated Lipsky's drinking water with explosive methane, and possibly cancer-causing chemicals, but withdrew its enforcement action, leaving the family with no useable water supply, according to a report obtained by The Associated Press. The EPA's decision to roll back its initial claim that hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” operations had contaminated the water is the latest case in which the federal agency initially linked drilling to water contamination and then softened its position, drawing criticism from Republicans and industry officials who insisted they proved the agency was inefficient and too quick to draw conclusions. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

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