Mora County in northern New Mexico became the first county in America to completely ban oil and gas development. Now an industry group and three landowners have filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the ban.
The Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico and the landowners claim in their lawsuit filed this week that the ban violates the U.S. constitution and state laws.
“These resources belong to the people of New Mexico, not to the commissioners of Mora County. This ordinance would in effect impact each and every citizen in the state,” Richard Gilliland, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico, told the AP Wednesday.
Another industry group — the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association — said the country ordinance is “bad public policy.”
The Mora County ordinance was approved in April by a 2-1 vote. It says permits or licenses issued by either the federal or state government that would override the country’s rights are invalid.
Mora County in northern New Mexico has about 1,900 square miles of northern New Mexico. Although there are about 120 leases blocks on state land within the county, there are no active wells there.
New Mexico production was about 80 million barrels of oil in 2012, and about 1.3 billion mcf of natural gas.
The oil and gas industry accounts for over 26,000 jobs in the state and contributes about $2.2 billion a year in revenue to the state and local governments.
The plaintiffs challenge the Mora County ban say it unfairly singles out and targets the practice of hydraulic fracturing, which is opposed by environmentalists.
“If defendants’ true goal was to protect surface and groundwater supplies within the county, the ordinance would address other industries that are known sources of water pollution, such as the agricultural industry,” the lawsuit claims.