HYDRAULIC FRACTURING:

N.M. county sued again over its fracking ban

A New Mexico county that's already defending its ban on oil drilling has been sued again, this time by an international oil company.

SWEPI LP, a U.S. subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell PLC, filed a federal lawsuit against Mora County on Jan. 10, saying the county's anti-drilling ordinance violates state law and the U.S. Constitution.

Mora County, a rural area just northeast of Santa Fe with a population of about 5,000, passed an ordinance in April that bans drilling for oil and gas, bans the use of water for hydraulic fracturing, and declares that corporations aren't people (EnergyWire, Nov. 18, 2013).

"Natural communities and ecosystems including, but not limited to, wetlands, streams, rivers, aquifers and other water systems, possess inalienable and fundamental rights to exist and flourish within Mora County against oil and gas extraction," the ordinance says. "Residents of the county, along with the Mora County Commission, shall possess legal standing to enforce those rights."

SWEPI leased land in the county in 2010, intending to explore for oil and gas. The suit says Mora County's ordinance violates the Constitution's equal protection and commerce clauses, amounts to taking property without compensation, conflicts with U.S. Supreme Court rulings that gave legal rights to corporations, and violates other state and federal laws.

Eric Jantz, an attorney for the county with the nonprofit New Mexico Environmental Law Center, said he hadn't reviewed the case.

The county was already being sued by a landowner and by companies owned by the Yates family, descendants of the oilman who drilled the state's first well.