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Federal Court Rejects New Mexico County Fracking Ban

The U.S. District Court for New Mexico has struck down a ban on drilling using hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Mora County, a rural area 100 miles northeast of Santa Fe.

The Mora County Commission approved the ban by a 2-1 vote in 2013 (see Shale DailyMay 13, 2013). The Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico, Royal Dutch Shell PLC subsidiary SWEPI LP and three landowners in the county challenged the vote in the federal district court in Albuquerque (see Shale DailyJan. 21, 2014; Nov. 19, 2013).

Judge James Browning found that Mora County's ban violated both the U.S. Constitution's supremacy clause and state laws that allow drilling generally and fracking specifically. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Center (CELDC) or the county could appeal the ruling to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Browning's ruling is said to be the first major federal judgment regarding local drilling bans.

Attorney Thomas Linzey, CELDC executive director, said Browning's decision affirmed "what our communities already know -- that the existing structure of law denies local, democratic self-governance; [it] denies communities the authority to protect themselves from fracking."

Linzey said the action by the commission is part of a "movement of communities" that is building nationally. He claimed local communities are “unwilling to live under a structure of law which denies their democratic decision-making authority."

Elsewhere, state courts in New York and Pennsylvania have upheld some level of local government control over oil and natural gas development, and in Colorado the courts have rejected such local bans (see related story). In Ohio, the state Supreme Court is still weighing the issue (see Shale DailyJune 30, 2014; April 21, 2014).

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