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Get ready for lawsuits after Mora County passes oil and gas ban

By   /   May 3, 2013  /   No Comments

Now that commissioners in Mora County have approved the only county-wide ordinance in the nation specifically prohibiting all oil and gas drilling, prepare for lawyers on both sides to do battle.

Wally Drangmeister, spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, told New Mexico Watchdog his organization “can’t comment on filing a lawsuit” but that “many people in the industry and people who have leased land (in Mora County) are looking very closely at that.”

PREPARE FOR THE LAWYERS: A ban on oil and gas drilling in a rural county in New Mexico figures to wind up in court. New Mexico Watchdog photo.

PREPARE FOR THE LAWYERS: A ban on oil and gas drilling in a rural county in New Mexico figures to wind up in court. New Mexico Watchdog photo.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the county commission that passed the no-drilling ordinance told us Friday (May 3) that an out-of-state environmental group based is about to sign an agreement to defend the county’s decision in court.

Lawsuits “have always been on the table,” commissioner John Olivas told New Mexico Watchdog. “What we’re doing to prepare ourselves is signing with a legal firm to represent us.”

The firm is the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a non-profit based in Pennsylvania that last year helped draft language for opponents of hydraulic fracturing — commonly called “fracking” — in Las Vegas, New Mexico.

“At the next county commission meeting, we’ll sign a retainer with the firm,” said Olivas, who said the fee will be $1. Olivas also said Mora County — one of the poorest in the state — will establish a fund to help pay for the law firm’s travel and living expenses.

Last Monday (April 29), Mora County commissioner passed the ordinance on a 2-1 vote.

“The primary reason was water protection,” Olivas said. “The next one was the community vastly supported the decision.”

But in a state where gas and extractive industries accounted for $1.7 billion in severance taxes in fiscal year 2012 — with more than half of that total going to public schools and higher education in the state — Mora County’s decision has reverberated.

“If actions like these stand unchallenged, the area will never have oil and gas produced,” Drangmeister said. “It could be a very bad development for oil and gas and the entire state of New Mexico.”

Paul Gessing of the Albuquerque-based free-market think the Rio Grande Foundation, took to the internet and called the commissioners who voted for ordinance “Mora-ons.”

“The folks in Mora County send their kids to schools that are funded largely by oil and gas, heat their homes and watch TV by the power of gas and/or some other nasty fossil fuel, drive on roads that have a petroleum base, and generally benefit from the fact that society around them embraces fossil fuels and oil and gas exploitation,” Gessing wrote.

“The resource belongs to the state of New Mexico,” Olivas said, adding he wants to change the state and federal constitutions.

“I’d rather fight industry in court that clean up after them when they leave our community,” comparing the looming battle to David and Goliath. “I think it can lead to a domino effect,” Olivas said.

It’s estimated oil companies such as Shell have leases on some 100,000 acres in the eastern part of Mora County so when the expected lawsuits come, one of the chief arguments is expected to center on property rights.

“We need to create other jobs,” Olivas said. “First, sustainable agriculture, second, business development and third, eco-tourism to keep people on the land.”

“Every school district in New Mexico benefits from oil and gas,” Drangmeister said. “Every county benefits … I’m not a legal scholar but from an 8th-grade civics standpoint, (the ordinance) has assertions that are troubling and questionable.”

***

Click http://www.scribd.com/doc/139339332/Mora-County-Oil-and-Gas-Ordinance to read the 7-page ordinance.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rob@nmwatchdog.org and reach him on Twitter at @nmwatchdog

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Rob Nikolewski is the National Energy Corrrespondent for Watchdog.org. He is based in Santa Fe, N.M. Contact him at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @NMWatchdog.

  • L E Liesner

    A simple solution to the problem would be for the oil and gas providers to just stop all delieveries to Mora County. Let them go back to the dark ages the voters there seem to prefer.

  • Ricardo

    This Moron ! must be smoking some of his homegrown pot ,LOL

    Its well known that the Environmental folks bought and paid for both commissioners that voted for ordinance .

    Each year they and San Miguel county line up at legislature . BEGGING for money for assorted home projects !!!. We will find that most of the so called constituent’s AGAINST drilling are mot property owners ,nor do they live in Mora county .Do not own even a Chamber Pot . in area !!!

    Agriculture ??? Where is the water for irrigation ???.

    Hopefully the state will NOT give either county any money derived from oil,gas production revenues .. Let the wealthy outsiders ( anti-drilling ) and gullible locals dig up the money to operate the counties .. Ya basta co BURROS NORTENOS LOL

  • Hannah

    I could not be more proud of these commisioners! Yes, we are all WAY too dependant on oil and gas for our everyday activities, however, if we don’t find an alternative to these destructive practices we will be living in a wasteland much sooner then we expect. By taking a stand against the big oil companies, Mora is helping change the way its residents look at energy. What cost are we really paying to have these quick and DIRTY energy suppliers providing us with a very limited supply of fuel? We will pay with toxic water, toxic grassland, a short economic boom, followed by abandonment by the companies when they have exhausted their oil supply. This may cause a slight economic depression, but I have no doubt that it will be followed by an increase in the use and production of more sustainable energy and power solutions. Good for Mora for demonstrating a strong moral compass and a REAL commitment to their residents’ wellbeing!

  • Ricardo

    Hannah Are you prepared to hand out YOUR money to Mora County , SO the commissioners don’t have to make the annual BEGGING trip to the state legislature session every year. ??? Are You and all others happy to see this ( ? Ordinance Passed ) going to go public and INSIST that MORA County NOT be awarded or accept any money derived from extraction of natural resources by all other counties ??? .. You folks are in cannabis land LOL Ya basta con Burros

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