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New Mexico County Oil/Gas Ban to Be Short-Lived, Industry Rep Says

More than a year after becoming the only local jurisdiction in New Mexico to ban all oil and natural gas activity, Mora County's three-member elected commission voted last Tuesday against repealing the ban it passed in April 2013. However, an industry representative predicts that the ban will be repealed next year.

A new board was elected earlier this year that takes office Jan. 1, and at least two of the members are on record as opposing the ban, Karin Foster, executive director and an attorney/lobbyist for the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico (IPANM), told NGI's Shale Daily on Wednesday. "We now have the votes to repeal it," Foster said.

The county commissioner who championed the ban lost his reelection bid in the June primaries, and the member replacing him campaigned against the ban in his recent successful election, Foster said. "The vice chairman voted to hold on to the [ban] ordinance for now, but he knows as he stated on the record that he is going to be out-voted [next year]."

In April 2013, the Mora County Commission passed, by a 2-1 vote, the "Mora County Community Water Rights and Local Self-Government Ordinance" (see Shale Daily, May 13, 2013). The measure makes it unlawful for "any corporation to engage in the extraction of oil, natural gas or other hydrocarbons within Mora County."

The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported the vote not to repeal the ordinance was a "surprise" because one of the commissioners supporting it originally had said he was changing his vote, but at the last minute he went back to his original supporting position.

Located in north-central New Mexico, Mora County has seen some strong interest from the oil and gas industry in recent years, with a unit of Royal Dutch Shell plc showing some "aggressive" interest before the ban was passed last year, Foster said. The county was being pitched as potentially a new basin separate from the more well known San Juan Basin in the northeast corner of the state and parts of the Permian Basin in the southeast.

"Shell had very high hopes for this becoming a third producing basin in the state, but since the ordinance I guess they have pretty much stepped back," Foster said.

Shell and IPANM are two of the entities that have outstanding lawsuits against the county ordinance active in two separate federal district courts (see Shale Daily, Jan. 21). Foster said the association lawsuit just began entering the discovery phase this week.

"The judge ordered defendants to file discovery, so we're still in the preliminary stages doing motions and briefings," Foster said. "We're in front of a federal magistrate court, and Shell is in a federal district court." The industry is arguing that the oil and gas corporations involved had their civil rights violated and were denied due process under the 4th and 15 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, she said.

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