Mora County Residents Exert Their Community Rights Over Fracking
By Kathleen Dudley
What is it that holds this county apart from other places in this vast landscape? The silence at dawn and dusk when all is still, when my awareness of my breath and heartbeat alert me to my aliveness? Is it possibly the prolonged dry and windy seasons that tear and strew everything about with hell’s might?
Or could it be the baking heat that draws insects to our parched fields and gardens when that is the last assault we can bear? Or is it the people who have lived here, then and now, who made their mark so deeply into the heart and soul of this land we call Mora County, New Mexico?
Could the land and the people be what is bringing about my own spiritual evolution and awakening my thirst for all that this community has valued for generations?
In a land of mountains, forests, fertile wet valleys and vast open plains, these Hispanic and Indigenous Jicarilla Apache people hold onto their ancestral values and nurture the old ways in spite of the onslaught of the 21st century. This has been a stunning glimpse for me into what I would call the mastery of self-determination and a healing gift for mankind.
Mora County’s population is 5,200 with 67 percent of its residents Spanish-speaking, who live in small community villages on ranches and farms. It is a place where people barter and help one another because this is a community that understands its connection to one another, as well as their relationship to the land.
All 1,944 square miles of the county’s rural landscape is unadulterated by industrial development, making it one of the last few places in the U.S. where a land-based culture has yet to look into the eyes of corporate industry.
But that is all about to change if Royal Dutch Shell has its way and industrializes this landscape for its hidden natural gas and the money it will bring them. But the citizens of Mora County appear to be aware of what could happen if the oil companies, who currently hold more than 144,000 acres of mineral leases, begin to drill.
They have heard from San Juan County, New Mexico ranchers, who like themselves, are caretakers of their ancestral lands, who have told them that if Mora County citizens “let the oil companies start their engines here, it will be all over for them” and that they would be “lucky to get a job as a dog catcher” or to safely drink their well water, let alone breathe clean air.
Most of the oil and gas wells that are proposed for Mora County would use the method of hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking. Fracking is a means of natural gas extraction employed in deep natural gas well drilling. Once a well is drilled, millions of gallons of water, sand and toxic chemicals are injected, under high pressure, into a well. The pressure fractures the shale and props open fissures that enable natural gas to flow more freely out of the well.
The outrage over fracking for the people of Mora County reflects their understanding of all that natural gas development entails. Folks from Farmington, New Mexico, where more than 14,000 operating oil and gas wells have turned their once agricultural land into an industrial zone, speak about the proliferation of prostitution, amphetamine labs, housing shortages, arrests, and high asthma and cancer rates among children. Other reports reveal that in Pavilion, Wyoming, the aquifers now contain benzene, 2-BE and other carcinogenic chemicals where natural gas drilling is taking place. In these communities, there is often a significant rise in the cost of living that ultimately displaces local people from their land.
The people in Mora County understand what is at stake. The bottom line is our knowledge that the local culture will fade as their language is displaced and their ancestral adobes are ploughed under and built over with high rises and country homes in the mad frenzy to welcome the fossil fuel development.
Not unlike other communities, there is caution about how to move forward in the midst of such an affront. However, a citizen committee presented the three-member Mora County Commission with the Mora County Community Water Rights and Local Self-Government Ordinance in September 2011, which was modeled after Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s CELDF rights-based ordinance that bans oil and gas drilling and fracking. It contains a “Community Bill of Rights,” exerting people’s inalienable rights to clean water, air, land, health and safety. And, at the core of the ordinance, it exerts the right to local self-government and prohibits harm by industry and writes out corporate “personhood.”
This ordinance is outside the box of U.S. corporate-government intention, and today, more than 140 communities have passed these ordinances into law. With the brilliance of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), who developed and crafted these community rights-based ordinances, Mora County is exerting their rights to continue to protect all that has been long valued, and to stand in solidarity with the communities across the U.S. who have passed these before them.
Will what has continued to hold the people to their rural landscape and culture in Mora County weather the onslaught of this current corporate-government siege? Will the commission exert their authority on behalf of their ancestors and children? While this land holds sacred the water, people, air and animals, it will take the courage and moral compasses of each the Mora Commissioners to protect these ancestral rights.
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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