N.M. county bans drilling; ‘Leave us alone. Let us enjoy what we have’ by April Reese, April 30, 2013, E&E News
County commissioners in a rural, picturesque swath of northern New Mexico voted yesterday to ban all oil and gas drilling. Passed in a 2-1 vote, the measure establishes a “bill of rights” for residents and nature that places a premium on clean air and water and intact landscapes. The ordinance prohibits activities that would undermine those rights, including hydraulic fracturing to tap shale gas.
Mora County, population 5,200, is a land of scattered ranches and farms. If Royal Dutch Shell PLC or other companies drill on the 144,000 acres of mineral leases they hold there, the county’s landscape — and its bucolic way of life — would drastically change, drilling critics say. “There are plenty of resources out there for natural gas. I don’t think it’s necessary for them to come into our community,” said John Olivas, chairman of the Mora County Commission and a hunting outfitter, who had worked for years to get the commission to pass such a measure before he was elected in 2010. “Leave us alone. Let us enjoy what we have.”
Alfonso Griego, vice chairman of the commission, said he supported the measure because he feels that federal and state laws fail to adequately protect communities from the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. “They just come in and do whatever is necessary for them to make profits,” Griego said. “There is technology for them to do it right, but it’s going to cost them more money. They’re not willing to do that yet. So we don’t want any oil and gas extraction in the county of Mora. It’s beautiful here.”
Commissioner Paula Garcia voted against the ordinance, on the grounds that it goes too far. The Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which helped craft the Mora County ordinance, said it is the first all-out ban to be adopted by a county. The city of Las Vegas, N.M., also in the northern part of the state, passed a similar ordinance last year that blocks fracking and establishes a community bill of rights.
Kathleen Dudley, an organizer with the group and a Mora County resident, touted the commission’s passage of the ordinance as “a statement of leadership that sets the bar for communities across the state of New Mexico.”
Calls to Shell’s U.S. office and to the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA) were not returned in time for publication. … NMOGA has also questioned whether local governments have the authority under the state constitution to pass such measures. Olivas said the county is putting together a legal fund in case it gets sued over the ordinance.
The first such ordinance was passed by Pittsburgh in 2010. Communities in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, New York and New Mexico also have enacted such measures. Two other northern New Mexico counties — San Miguel County, which surrounds Las Vegas, and Rio Arriba County — have crafted similar ordinances (Greenwire, Feb. 27).
First County in U.S. Bans Fracking and all Hydrocarbon Extraction – Mora County, NM Press Release by Drilling Mora County, http:drillingmoracounty.org April 29th, 2013, Community Environmental Defense Fund
Ordinance calls for a State Constitutional Amendment to Elevate the Rights of Communities Above Corporate “Rights”
Earlier today, the County Commission of Mora County, located in Northeastern New Mexico, became the first county in the United States to pass an ordinance banning all oil and gas extraction. Drafted with assistance from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), the Mora County Community Water Rights and Local Self-Government Ordinance establishes a local Bill of Rights – including a right to clean air and water, a right to a healthy environment, and the rights of nature – while prohibiting activities which would interfere with those rights, including oil drilling and hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” for shale gas. Communities across the country are facing drilling and fracking. Fracking brings significant environmental impacts including the production of millions of gallons of toxic wastewater, which can affect drinking water and waterways. Studies have also found that fracking is a major global warming contributor, and have linked the underground disposal of frack wastewater to earthquakes.
CELDF Executive Director Thomas Linzey, Esq., explained, “Existing state and federal oil and gas laws force fracking and other extraction activities into communities, overriding concerns of residents. Today’s vote in Mora County is a clear rejection of this structure of law which elevates corporate rights over community rights, which protects industry over people and the natural environment.” He stated further that, “This vote is a clear expression of the rights guaranteed in the New Mexico Constitution which declares that all governing authority is derived from the people. With this vote, Mora is joining a growing people’s movement for community and nature’s rights.”
CELDF Community Organizer and Mora County resident, Kathleen Dudley, added, “The vote of Mora Commission Chair John Olivas and Vice-Chair Alfonso Griego to ban drilling and fracking is not only commendable, it is a statement of leadership that sets the bar for communities across the State of New Mexico.” She explained that the ordinance calls for an amendment to the New Mexico Constitution that “elevates community rights above corporate property rights.” [Emphasis added]