MORA, N.M. (KRQE) - A northeastern New Mexico county has become the first in the country to ban all types of oil and gas extraction including what's become known as fracking.
The action taken this week by the Mora County Commission comes in response to oil companies expressing interest in tapping into their land.
But one county commissioner is concerned the ordinance challenges federal and state law and could mean damaging lawsuits for a small county that cannot afford them.
The Mora County commissioners voted 2-1 Monday to ban all oil and gas extraction in the area.
Chairman John Olivas says oil and gas companies, most notably Shell, have leased more than 100,000 acres in eastern Mora County, and the county wants to make sure there won't be any drilling for oil or hydraulic fracturing for gas.
"The water is the primary concern of oil and gas extraction, and we're looking to protect that," Olivas says. "We are taking a leap of faith to fight the corporations in terms of oil and gas extraction, but I think what we are looking to do is begin a movement to change the Constitution,"
For instance, the ordinance calls for a state constitutional amendment that puts community rights above corporate property rights.
Commissioner Paula Garcia also wants environmental protections, but she was the only one to vote against this ordinance, which she says goes too far.
"It is trying to reclaim local decision making that isn't recognized in the law currently, and, in essence, it is challenging existing laws," Garcia says.
While federal and state law typically override local county legislation, this ordinance puts the county above New Mexico and U.S. government in regards to oil and gas extraction.
Garcia worries the ordinance won't hold up in court and that Mora County can't afford a pricey lawsuit.
"I just want the protections we put in place to have a fighting chance," Garcia says.
But the ordinance is already in effect and, so far, no one has stepped forward to challenge it.
The state says its Oil Conservation Division can still issue permits to drill in Mora County, but permit holders will now likely have to go to court to fight the county ordinance.
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