Mora County oil and gas drilling ban heading to court

Posted at: 11/12/2013 10:21 PM
By: Maria Guerrero, 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.

Drilling in Mora County would include hydraulic fracturing where pressurized water and sand is pumped deep down to crack rocks and release oil and gas.

Video of high levels of methane in water in Pennsylvania has made a big splash in the fight against fracking.

But Foster says the geography in Mora County is different from Pennsylvania.

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.

Foster says they're waiting to hear from the county and commissioners.

Commissioner John Olivas spoke briefly on the phone Tuesday afternoon. He said he hadn't heard a lawsuit was filed.

He did not return phone calls from KOB Eyewitness News 4.

Olivas is a member of environmental group, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.