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Drilling Mora County

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.

For more information, click here.

EcoWatch

On Jan. 10, more than 250 Ohioans assembled on the west lawn of the Ohio Statehouse to voice their opposition to hydraulic fracturing—better known as fracking—and deep injection wastewater disposal wells.

Leading the charge was State Rep. Robert Hagan (D-Youngstown), who last week called on Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) in a letter to implement an indefinite moratorium on D&L Energy's deep injection wells in Youngstown, Ohio, which has been rocked 11 times in the past nine months by earthquakes. Seismic surveys have corroborated that the two most recent earthquakes—on Christmas Eve and a 4.0 magnitude quake on New Year's Eve—had epicenters near D&L's deep injection wells.

Rep. Hagan called on Gov. Kasich to institute a moratorium on all deep injection wells within a five mile radius of the Youngstown site until Ohioans can be guaranteed that no correlation exists between the disposal wells and danger to the natural environment or human health.

“The people of Ohio and the people of the Mahoning Valley need answers from our government officials," said Rep. Hagan. "We need to know why over half of the toxic frack water we are blasting into Ohio lands is coming from Pennsylvania. We need to know why there is such a rush to dump this waste in Ohio. And we need to know why it took ten earthquakes in ten months for anyone in the Kasich administration to wake up and respond to calls for a moratorium on these wells. We never had an earthquake in Youngstown until John Kasich was elected governor.”

"What has occurred in the Mahoning Valley is deeply troubling," said State Rep. Tracy Heard (D-26). "It's evidently clear we must take a step back and examine fracking, not only the process but its potential impacts to our environment both long-term and short-term. I stand ready to work with my colleagues to find a solution that will protect the citizens of Ohio and our environment."

“Creating jobs at the expense of human health and the environment is not sustainable," said Stefanie Penn Spear, executive director of EcoWatch. "Ohio needs to bring back the incentives for renewable energy projects that support Ohio’s energy bill SB 221. Investment in renewable energy will create green jobs, revitalize our strong manufacturing base and provide long-term solutions to our energy needs without contaminating our drinking water, polluting our air, displacing communities and making people sick.”

Other speakers at today's event included:

  • State Rep. Nickie J. Antonio (D-Lakewood)
  • State Rep. Denise Driehaus (D-Cincinnati)
  • State Rep. Mike Foley (D-Cleveland)
  • State Rep. Teresa Fedor (D-47)
  • Ohio State Senator Mike Skindell (D-Lakewood)
  • Ohio State Senator Charleta Tavares (D-Columbus)

Today's speakers called on Gov. Kasich to protect the environment and public health by passing SB 213/HB 345, which would impose a moratorium on fracking permits and wastewater disposal injection wells. Currently, Ohio is home to 177 deep injection well sites.

The protest was organized by NO FRACK OHIO, a collaboration of more than 50 grassroots and conservation groups calling for further safeguards on horizontal hydraulic fracturing.

To view more photos of today's rally on Facebook, click here.

Visit our fracking page to keep up-to-date on fracking issues worldwide.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

EcoWatch

Until March 17, 2011—St. Patrick's Day—Youngstown, Ohio had never officially recorded an earthquake. New Year's Eve 2011 had Youngstown residents trembling for the 11th time in under nine months. Making matters worse, the Dec. 31 quake registered a magnitude 4.0 on the Richter scale—the most powerful quake yet, felt across hundreds of square miles, ranging from Canada to West Virginia.

At the epicenter of the sudden jolt in seismic activity is the Ohio Works Drive fluid injection well, operated by D&L Energy Group affiliate Northstar Disposal Services LLC. The site—just outside of downtown Youngstown—is a 9,200 foot-deep disposal for brine wastewater—a byproduct of hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking. Ohio is home to 176 other injection deep well sites.

On the heels of the New Year's Eve earthquake, Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), an outspoken drilling proponent, issued a moratorium on wastewater wells within a five-mile radius of the Youngstown site until the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) can more clearly review the situation and its impacts on public health and safety.

Rep. Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown) called on Gov. Kasich in a letter on Jan. 5 to institute an indefinite moratorium on the injection wells until Ohioans can be guaranteed that there's no detrimental correlation between the natural environment and the wells.

To read Rep. Hagan's letter to Gov Kasich, click here.

Rep. Hagan's chief concern is the ability for ODNR and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to objectively assess the situation, as these organizations are, according to Hagan, "steeped in communications regarding the positive aspects of oil and gas exploration in the state, while ignoring some potentially very serious implications of components such as waste disposal."

Despite compelling evidence linking the recent Youngstown earthquakes to D&L's wastewater injection wells—in addition to a growing number of high-profile water contamination incidents in Dimock, Pa. and more recently in Pavillion, Wy.—regulations to keep citizens safe are lagging.

According to the Youngstown Vindicator, D&L has "a history of at least 120 violations at 32 injection and extraction wells in Ohio and Pennsylvania during the past decade."

To date, the company faces no fines for wrongdoing, although regulators have documented a "lack of correction action."

Tell Gov. Kasich and the ODNR you want stronger safeguards for fracking by clicking here.

For more information, click here.

A Don’t Frack Ohio rally is being held on Jan. 10 at 1 p.m. at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. Speakers will include Rep. Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown), and representatives from communities impacted by oil and gas drilling and injection well sites. For more information on the fracking protest, click here.

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