New Mexico County Is First In Nation To Ban Fracking & Oil Drilling

Mora county, New Mexico
Map of New Mexico high-lighting Mora County (image: public domain)

Mora County, New Mexico, has become the first county in the nation to ban natural gas ‘fracking’ and oil drilling, according to a report on Mora County –currently suffering from a severe drought — is located near Santa Fe and has a residential population of less than 5000 persons. Nearby San Miguel County has already imposed a temporary moratorium on drilling.

In a recent interview with E&E News (via NRDC), County Commissioner Alfonso Griego explained his support for the measure:

“…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. 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.”

What’s more, in an effort to affirm and codify the county’s right to autonomy and self-governance, county commissioners also formally adopted a ‘bill of rights’ giving themselves the right to block drilling even if State or Federal regulators attempt to permit it.

The ordinance gives authority to the country to invalidate any permits or licenses granted by State or Federal authorities that would compromise the county’s autonomy.

Arguments opposing the ban center on potential lost revenues for the county if exploration (of natural gas deposits) is not permitted. But county officials seem more than willing to make that (potential) sacrifice.

In a recent article, Thomas Linzey, executive director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, drew the battle lines, stating:

“This is the fight that people have been too chicken to pick over the last 10 years, which is essentially deciding who makes decisions about the future of the places where we live. Either it’s the people who live there or it’s the corporations that have an interest in exploiting them. It’s very basic.”

Opposition to Fracking and Oil Drilling is Increasing Nation-wide

Recent months have seen growing opposition to unregulated drilling and fossil fuel exploration with concrete actions being taken — from the recent anti-fracking ruling in California to the first divestment of fossil fuel holdings from a college’s endowment fund.

While not all environmentalists and organizations oppose all drilling practices, the practice of hydraulic fracturing — as it is currently conducted — has become a focus of great concern for environmental health advocates (re: the imminent risk of contamination of aquifers and agricultural water) and a flashpoint of opposition to the reckless “drill, baby, drill” mentality of the domestic energy industry and its supporters.

But opposition to drilling/fracking operations goes beyond the environmentalists; quite often, drilling interests come into direct competition with other municipal, industrial and agricultural interests, which is to say: water rights. fracking in particular is a water intensive process. Half the nation’s fracking wells are located near “water-stressed” regions (Texas and Colorado especially) according to one recent non-profit report. “Water-stressed” means 80% or more of available water is allocated for other essential purposes. There is talk of coming “water wars” in western US.

New methods and technological improvements for safer, cleaner, more efficient extraction of fuels are available, but are costly to implement (industry players tend not to want to incur this cost). Further, in a de-regulatory environment, as we currently have, lack of incentive and oversight — and a lack of chemical reporting compliance — permits a variety of drilling and fracking practices with unknown consequences for public health and environmental quality.

Although there have been a couple of studies showing no “direct evidence” of contamination from fracking, or “low risk” from such contamination, an increasing number of studies are finding the opposite, and, litigation against fracking and drilling interests is also increasing (note: search: ‘fracking’ on this site for more info).

Despite concerns over “energy security”, more and more, it seems, people are unwilling to accept the risks inherent in fracking just to gain a little more gas.

Some source material for this post comes from the article: ‘New Mexico county is first in the nation to ban all drilling and fracking’ by John Upton


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