Shale Daily / NGI All News Access

New Mexico County Believed to Be First to Ban Oil, Gas Drilling

In what is believed to be a first in the industry, elected officials in Mora County, NM, have enacted a total ban on oil and gas drilling.

The Mora County Commission passed, by a 2-1 vote, the "Mora County Community Water Rights and Local Self-Government Ordinance" on April 29. The measure states that "it shall be unlawful for any corporation to engage in the extraction of oil, natural gas or other hydrocarbons within Mora County."

Alfonso Griego and John Olivas, who serves as commission chairman, voted for the ordinance, while Paula Garcia voted against it. None could be reached for comment Friday.

Mora County Republican Party Chairman Frank Trambley said the ordinance puts the county "at a sincere disadvantage" compared to other areas of the state. "This decision appears to have been made with a total a lack of knowledge in the process of oil and gas extraction," Trambley said. "When looking at the facts, we must ask if these commissioners have ever been to the areas where the oil and gas industry flourishes.

"Those in oil producing areas, no doubt, can speak to the benefits of the industry; however, extreme progressives apparently believe that there is no clean air or clean water in these areas. It is truly maddening to see such sweeping bans being made without accurate knowledge."

Wally Drangmeister, spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA), told NGI's Shale Daily the move by Mora County could be the first in the nation. "They basically said that they have the rights locally, they don't care what the federal or state constitutions say, they're going to do this," Drangmeister said Friday.

Drangmeister added that the NMOGA didn't have an official comment on the matter, but he did say the organization "doesn't think it's a good thing on many fronts. We're trying to figure out what an appropriate course of action is at this point," he said.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Mora County had a population of 4,881 in 2010. The bureau said 16.3% of the county's population lived below the poverty level from 2007 to 2011, which is lower than the statewide mark of 19.0%.

The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions reported that Mora County had the second-highest unemployment rate in the state in March, at 14.4%; only Luna County was higher at 20.5%. None of the rest of the state's 33 counties had unemployment rates in double digits.

"It's very unfortunate," Drangmeister said. "This is one of the poorer areas of the state, but they have an opportunity for some economic development and possibly to get some production going at some point. And then they do this. It's very unfortunate."

Commissioners in neighboring San Miguel County are considering an oil and gas ordinance, although it was not clear if it bans hydraulic fracturing. But the ordinance does, among other things, call for:

Drangmeister said Mora and San Miguel counties are frontier areas of the Tucumcari Basin.

"Gas prices are very low right now," Drangmeister said. "I'm not sure how imminent something would be, but there is certainly a good possibility of there being some production one day if the regulation is rational and sound."

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