The Latest: New Mexico fracking ban overturned

A win for industry in the nation’s first county to ban the practice.


The first U.S. county to ban hydraulic fracturing and other oil and gas development was perhaps the most unlikely: a rural, sparsely populated chunk of northern New Mexico. Mora County soon became a model for communities from Colorado to California seeking to prohibit fracking (“The man behind a New Mexico county’s fracking ban,” HCN, 6/24/14). But after the ordinance passed in April 2013, four landowners (backed by oil and gas interests) and a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell sued.

On Jan. 19, a U.S. District Court struck down Mora County’s ban. It was the first time a federal court has ruled on “local control” of oil and gas development, and the decision represents a win for industry — and a blow to environmentalists. The judge found that the ban’s language deprived oil and gas companies of their corporate rights, violating the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause. John Olívas, the former county commissioner behind the ban, says that while it’s “unfortunate corporate rights are so much higher than community rights in the eyes of the court,” the fight for local control is far from over.

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