Shell Oil Exerts Personhood, Sues NM Over Fracking Ban

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Mora County faces new lawsuit over drilling ban

The Goliath bearing down on Mora County just got bigger. A Royal Dutch Shell subsidiary has joined a fight to kill Mora County’s ban on oil and gas development by filing a lawsuit Jan. 10 in federal District Court in Albuquerque.

This is the second lawsuit the rural Northern New Mexico county is facing over a community rights ordinance that effectively prevents oil and gas drilling.

Mora residents and officials say they passed the ordinance because they are worried about hydraulic fracturing, a technique used to crack open rocks and release trapped hydrocarbons. The industry claims the technique, popularly called fracking, is safe, but communities around the United States are worried it will pollute groundwater.

The recent lawsuit was filed by Shell Western E&P Inc., or SWEPI Limited Partnership. It asks the court not only to overturn the ordinance, but to award the company damages.

The company claims the Mora County ordinance strips the corporation of its constitutional rights under the First, Fifth and 14th amendments, and says the rule is in conflict with a U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that corporations are persons for purposes of the rights afforded by the Constitution. The company also says the ordinance divests it of its property interests by preventing it from pursuing oil and gas drilling on private and state trust lands leased in the county.

The county was first sued Nov. 15 by the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico trade group and three Mora County property owners in federal District Court over the ordinance.

“Is this fight really about hydraulic fracturing?” asked the trade group’s executive director, Karin Foster, on the association’s website shortly after the lawsuit was filed. “No. If you read the text of the Mora County Community Rights Ordinance, it clearly states that, ‘Corporate entities and their directors and managers shall not enjoy special privileges or powers under the law.’

“The fight in Mora is much bigger than fracking or even oil and gas,” Foster’s statement continued. “It is about business and our American way of life. It is time for industry, business and the general public to fight back to expose the hypocrisy of the people who drive their cars, turn on their lights, take hot showers, wear their Patagonia jackets and drink their Starbucks coffee at town hall meetings in Mora County.”

Mora County commissioners and residents who support the Water Rights and Local Self-Government Ordinance readily agree their intent was to once again put citizens first and challenge the power of corporations.

Mora County approved the community rights ordinance in April 2013 in a 2-1 vote. The only commissioner who voted against the ordinance, Paula Garcia, said she opposes drilling but was worried the county was setting itself up for a lawsuit.

Months later, Garcia voted with the other two commissioners to hire law firms and defend the county’s position. The New Mexico Environmental Law Center in Santa Fe will be among the firms representing the county.

Oil and gas companies are eyeing Mora and San Miguel Counties for future drilling. KHL Inc. and other companies have negotiated oil and gas lease deals on an estimated 100,000 acres of land, mostly in the eastern half of Mora County.

Oil and gas leases for more than 9,000 acres of state trust land in the area near White Peak were approved in 2010.

Santa Fe County has an ordinance that doesn’t ban oil and gas drilling, but is extremely restrictive. To date, the ordinance has not been challenged in court and there has been no drilling.

  • Joseph White

    Hmmmm. Let’s see, Corporations are people? Okay, publicly kill the corporation that polluted the water in Virginia. When that corporation is executed and lies dying, then we’ll talk about it.

  • kathy n

    what of the day when there is no more clean water? we must stop these insane people from destroying the only home we will ever know. we are on an orb hurling through space at speeds that would boggle your mind. we are on an organic spaceship flying through time and space. this is wondrous. we have all we need on this planet and yet we allow a cabal of literally insane people to bring us all to our doom, including themselves. when you frack, you poison the water and ruin the land. when we remove the cancer that is this cabal and live in the light, you will soon see there is enough for everyone and everything to exist in harmony on this orb we call home. it is hard to see this through manipulation of misery and lack of. all an illusion made up by the cabal in order to be more powerful and make more paper ($). absolutely insane. wake up, wake up one and all, wake up before it is too late. or is it?

  • Lauren Steiner

    Thanks to Citizens United, this is the problem with the Community Rights approach. A community is best to use zoning laws to ban fracking. This is what we are working on in LA.

  • Rivera Sun

    Clearly Karen Foster has never attended at Town Hall Meeting in Mora County. There isn’t a Starbucks for fifty miles. For shame on her! Bad lies from a bad industry, as always. However, she is right about one thing: this is not just about fracking. This is about corporate personhood, which should be abolished.

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  • Amanda Pursell

    It’s a dog whistle, she’s trying to paint the commissioners as ‘elitist’ know nothings who are out of touch with the common man and hurting local business by standing up to corporate interests.

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  • pascalmolineaux

    Unbelievable… Either you believe in democracy or you don´t. If the inhabitants of Mora County and their elected representatives voted to ban fracking, well, that is their right. They live there right? They and their children will have to live with the consequences of careless fracking, right? This is ludicrous: that an outisde big business, looking to make big bucks, can sue a community for making a decision that seeks to protect the prospects of a healthy environment for themselves and their children! What kind of world is this? But the desire for increased profits will push Big Business to do whatever they deem fit, ignoring people’s rights to a healthy and safe environment, ignoring the overwhelming evidence of human-indiced global climate change and buy the political decision-making process… It is the world upside down, not a world in which business exists to sreve the people but one in which, increasingly, people are made to serve te endless greed of big business….. A sad world indeed.

  • steven rukes

    I have worked in the oil & gas upstream exploration since the 70’s and I want to tell you folks you are focused on the wrong things to protect the county, the people and the land. NM is important to me personally. There are ways to preserve Everything. 99.9% of the opportunity for ground water to be contaminated is when the vertical section of the well is drilled through that formation/section and in the way the zone is sealed off from the rest of the well. Its not rocket science but you need knowledgeable people to advise you on regulations to set to fully protect the environment. Also the worst contaminations are on the surface. I have worked in states that do nearly nothing, to States that set Extremely stringent standards for surface contamination. You have to make prison sentences for environmental damage mandintory. Even Huge fines don’t deter the operating companies. These Companies have more money than God so it has to be jail time for CEO’s and workers. Once again you need to find someone who has worked in the industry to advise the lawmakers. Contrary to popular opinion oil field workers love the environment and want to go to extremes to keep it safe but they cannot do the work necessary unless the operating companies make it mandatory and allocate the funding in the “well plan.” ALSO there are things you need to do in legislation to tie the monitary success of the well to the aftercare of the land and wildlife. PS I think Starbucks is way too yuppie for Mora County & remember these people have more money than God so you need to spend yours wisely to protect what you have. . . -steve

  • kevinzeese

    Thanks for your comment. Two things:

    1. I am not convinced any regulations, even with criminal enforcement (and it better be of the CEOs rather than – or along with – the workers who face jail time) can be crafted to make extreme energy extraction like fracking, tar sands or mountain top removal environmentally healthy.

    2. The ‘all of the above’ energy approach that continues to rely on oil, gas, coal and nuclear is a mistake, we need to make a conscious and intentional shift to a new energy economy one that is carbon-free and nuclear free.We could do this by 2030 or sooner. I know people think this is impossible but that is the propaganda of big energy. See here for more

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