SANTA FE – The Mora County Commission voted unanimously, 3-0, during a special meeting last week to repeal a controversial ordinance aimed at banning hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the county.
The Community Rights and Local Self-Governance ordinance, approved by a split vote of the commission in April 2013, drew two federal lawsuits from the oil and gas industry. In one of the suits, filed by Shell Western E&P Inc., the ordinance was ruled invalid on constitutional grounds by a U.S. District Court judge earlier this year.
“I think it was the wrong ordinance,” said George Trujillo, who joined the Mora commission in January after beating former commission chairman John Olivas, the driving force behind the ordinance, in the primary election last year. “I felt it was an unconstitutional ordinance when it was passed.”
Trujillo said another factor in his decision to vote for repeal was the risk that the county would be saddled with more attorney fees going forward.
“We couldn’t afford that,” Trujillo said.
County Attorney Michael Aragon said the parties in the already decided SWEPI lawsuit are currently working to settle attorney fees and court costs in the case.
The other case, brought by the Independent Petroleum Association, is pending in federal magistrate court. “At this point, since the ordinance has been repealed, I think it renders the issue moot,” Aragon said.
Karyn Foster of the Independent Petroleum Association agreed that the county repealing the ordinance could lead to an end of its lawsuit.
“My expectation is that between Judge (James O.) Browning’s decision (in the SWEPI case), as well as the county repealing the ordinance, it will be dismissed,” she said.
Foster said she was pleased that the Mora commission recognized the 2013 ordinance was not going to fly with the courts.
“If they have to pass one, it needs to be balanced and take into consideration property rights and mineral rights. It has to be more thought through. A ban is not going to work,” she said.
Mora was the first county in the country to pass an ordinance banning fracking outright.
In addition to putting the county off limits to oil and gas development, the ordinance established a bill of rights aimed at affirming the county’s right to local autonomy and self-governance. The ordinance stated that any permits or licenses issued by either the federal or state government allowing activities that would compromise the county’s rights would be considered invalid.
The ordinance was drafted with the help of the Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit law firm that has worked with dozens of mostly East Coast communities to revise local laws.
Neither the law firm nor former Commissioner Olivas immediately returned phone messages from the Journal on Thursday.