The first county in the country to issue an outright ban against oil and gas hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, has been challenged by a lawsuit filed this week in federal court in Albuquerque, N.M.
The lawsuit was filed by a statewide industry group, the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico, and three local landowners who claim the ban is unconstitutional and violates state laws.
The Albuquerque Journal quotes Richard Gilliland, president of the state’s Independent Petroleum Association, who says: "These resources belong to the people of New Mexico, not to the commissioners of Mora County. This ordinance would in effect impact each and every citizen in the state."
The fracking ban in an economically depressed part of the state was passed back in April. Most residents of the county rely on well water and there was reportedly widespread concern that the controversial “fracking” process could compromise drinking supplies. KUNM reporter Carrie Jung talked to resident Gilbert Quintana back in June:
"We didn’t want to see our aquifers polluted, because if that becomes our only source of water, then we really become messed up."
The fracking ban has, according to Gilliland, brought oil and gas exploration in the county to a halt, and has the potential to cost the county millions in lost revenues.
Mora is not alone, however, in its concerns about fracking. The Los Angeles Times reports that the county has joined a “groundswell of civic opposition” begun in the upper Midwest, New York and Pennsylvania were a fracking boom has brought wealth and environmental anxiety. Pittsburgh was the first U.S. city to ban the process three years ago, and a dozen cities in the East have followed suit.
Supporters of the ban in Mora County claim they will defend the ban in court.
“It’s very unfortunate that municipalities and communities cannot say no to corporations without getting sued. But Mora County is up to the challenge. I think this was expected," said County Commissioner John Olivas.
And they will have some help. Back in July, Olivas was quoted in the Santa Fe New Mexican saying that, should a lawsuit occur, the county would be represented by the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, in collaboration with five other law firms from Ohio, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Oregon.