Mora County citizens take leadership
By Kathleen Dudley
Co-founder, Drilling Mora County
In July 2009, during a public community meeting on oil/gas development in Mora County, a Royal Dutch Shell spokesperson stated they would drill here in 2010. Whether that was a threat, an act of intimidation, or a hope on the part of SWEPI, a Denver-based Shell subsidiary, is unknown. But today, there has been no movement by the oil industry to apply for permits in Mora County. And no drilling is taking place.
It is easy to speculate the reasons. During the past four years since the first mineral leases were signed by KHL land men in October 2007, Mora County citizens have worked steadfastly to keep industry at bay by building countywide awareness through grand-scale county public meetings, monthly educational forums, and persistently active participation in County Commission and Planning and Zoning meetings.
The baseline water-well testing throughout Mora County’s Las Vegas basin, wherein wells were sampled in 2010 for a myriad of chemicals normally used during drilling and hydraulic fracturing, represents the first legally defensible data prior to drilling for natural gas across the United States and puts industry “on notice” that any contamination via their drilling will be clearly evident should they attempt to drill here.
Nationwide, there is a movement by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), an environmental law firm in Pennsylvania, to help communities draft local community-rights ordinances that protect their inalienable rights to clean water, air, land and most importantly, their right to local self-governance. This model is spreading like wildfire across the country. And now in New Mexico, communities are grasping their rights to pass and enforce these local ordinances that challenge 225 years of state and corporate dominance.
The Town of Wales, N.Y., passed the most recent ordinance in June, called “Town of Wales Community Protection of Natural Resources,” which bans natural-gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing within their community. This is the fifth such community to ban “fracking” outright since October 2010 and representing five of 130 CELDF Community Rights Ordinances in communities today.
This is an empowering process that gives citizens an avenue to say “no” to unjust laws that have prevailed throughout history in which corporate rights overpower those of people and ecosystems. We can call this our first People and Ecosystem Movement in the history of the United States, thanks to CELDF and the many courageous community elected officials and citizens who are adopting these Community Rights Ordinances.
Add up all this burgeoning awareness and the national citizen outrage at the growing evidence of the corporate industry’s devastation, and it is no surprise to see the people in Mora County continuing to find ways to protect their communities from industry’s advances. There is nothing the oil industry can bring to Mora County that will keep the water clean, or the children’s legacies intact. It is clear today that oil and gas drilling is equated with ruined water sources and depleted supplies. This knowledge is powerful.
In the words of John Pilger, director of the new film The War You Don’t See, “We ought never to be agents of power, always of people.” And so grows the new People and Ecosystem Movement across the U.S.