Mora County oil and gas drilling ban heading to court

Producers Sue New Mexico County Over Drilling Ban by Jim Magill, November 15, 2013, Platts
An industry trade group and three landowners filed suit in federal court this week against a northern New Mexico County, challenging its right to ban all oil and gas drilling. … The suit asks the court to declare the county ordinance unconstitutional and overturn it. … Attorneys from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which helped draft the Mora County ordinance, and from the Environmental Law Center will be defending the county in the lawsuit. Kathleen Dudley, a CELDF community rights organizer, said the lawsuit differs from other legal challenges to municipal fracking bans in that it directly challenges the legal theory that asserts corporations are legal persons.

“The focus on the lawsuit won’t be on fracking but on challenging the current fact that corporations, like the plaintiffs, actually have more rights than the people of Mora County. That’s why it’s being taken into federal court,” she said. “We don’t have a fracking problem. We actually have a democracy problem.” Alfonso Griego, vice chairman of the Mora County Board of Commissioners, on Thursday declined to discuss the lawsuit but defended the county’s right to pass the ordinance. “It’s about the water. My ultimate goal is to protect the water sources of Mora County against contamination,” he said.
Griego said the state should not have the right to prohibit the county from passing a drilling ban. “The state doesn’t live in Mora County. We the people live in Mora County. It’s our right to see how want to live; that’s afforded to us by both the state and federal constitutions.” [Emphasis added]

Mora County sued over oil-drilling ban by Steve Terrell, November 12, 2013, santafenewmexican
In a dispute being watched around the United States, a statewide oil and gas association and three Mora County landowners are suing the Mora County Commission over its ban on oil drilling. The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, claims the county’s action in April violates the plaintiffs’ civil rights and is unconstitutional. “What the Mora County Commission has done with this ordinance is an insult to the U.S. Constitution and every free citizen,” said Richard Gilliland, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico, in a news release Tuesday. The group is one of the plaintiffs in the case. Mora County Commissioner John Olivas said Tuesday he had not seen the suit, so he declined to discuss the legal action itself. However, he defended the commission’s vote. “I was in a position to protect our resources in Mora County,” he said. “We’re ready for this fight.” The ban, which passed the commission on a 2-1 vote, says it “shall be unlawful for any corporation to engage in the extraction of oil, natural gas, or other hydrocarbons within Mora County.”

The ordinance says, “The People of Mora County recognize that water is essential for the life, prosperity, sustainability, and health of their community and that damage to natural groundwater and surface water sources imposes great tangible loss, to the People, natural communities and ecosystems of Mora County, not just for today but for future generations. The People of Mora County recognize that they may be forced, without their consent, to endure or attempt to repair harm inflicted on their environment and their vital water supply, which they have no equivalent governing authority to prevent under current state and federal law.”

However, the lawsuit claims the “true purpose” of the county law is not to protect the water, but to stop the “lawful development of oil and natural gas” and to ban hydraulic fracturing in the county. “If defendants’ true goal was to protect surface and groundwater supplies within the county, the ordinance would address other industries that are known sources of water pollution, such as the agricultural industry,” the lawsuit argues. Mora was the first county in the United States to impose an outright ban on all drilling. Shortly before that vote, the San Miguel County Commission rejected a similar drilling ban. [Emphasis added]

Mora County oil and gas drilling ban heading to court by Maria Guerrero, November 11, 2013, KOB Eyewitness News 4
The fight against Mora County’s ban on oil and gas drilling is heading to court. The county is being sued by those who argue it has no right to get in the way of exploration and money making. No one is even really sure there’s oil and natural gas underneath Mora County. Property owners just want to be able to look. But projects have been on hold since the county commission passed an ordinance in April. It became the first county in the nation to pass such a ban. A 30-page lawsuit lays out the fight.

Those who want the freedom to drill for oil and gas in Mora County include the 125-thousand acre ranch owned by the Yates family of Artesia. The Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico is also a plaintiff in the civil rights lawsuit. “What this ordinance does is prohibits us from even leasing, from even drilling, from even hydraulically fracking,” said the association’s executive director Karin Foster. Foster calls the county’s ban unconstitutional. “What this county is trying to do is prohibit us from speaking about the ordinance and it’s taking away property rights of owners,” she said.

At the heart of the Mora County ban is the commission’s concern that ground water may be impacted in the drilling process. Foster says that’s “misfounded.” “I would urge the county commissioners and the people of Mora County to really educate themselves about the oil and gas process and not point to ground water protection as a red herring because you can have very safe oil and gas production like you do in Hobbs, New Mexico or Roswell or San Juan without impacting the ground water,” she said. The case is in District Court.

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