Miguel Pacheco says there are two good reasons San Miguel County ought to ban hydraulic fracturing outright as neighboring Mora County did, or restrict it so that oil-and-gas developers are discouraged.
“We do not have the water, to begin with,” Pacheco, of Las Vegas, N.M., said in a phone interview. “Las Vegas and San Miguel County have been on water restrictions for years. We haven’t been able to water our trees, gardens, yards for years.”
“The second thing is the quality of water. Hydraulic fracturing is very toxic,” said Pacheco, a few hours before he was scheduled to moderate an anti-fracking demonstration Friday afternoon in the town’s historic downtown plaza.
More than 60 people braved cold temperatures for the two-hour event, he said later. “It went excellent.”
Hydraulic fracking, popularly called fracking, uses high-pressure fluids through well bore holes to force fractures in shale and other rock formations, allowing oil and gas trapped in the rock to flow out. Combined with new techniques for horizontal drilling, fracking is credited with opening up vast amounts of oil and gas reserves in areas once thought too marginal to drill. Industry advocates say fracking is safe.
But opponents across the United States and worldwide say there’s too much risk to water supplies and the environment from fracking fluids, especially when oil and gas companies aren’t required to disclose the chemicals used.
San Miguel County residents are continuing to push for a ban on fracking as their County Commission considers a draft land development ordinance that sets aside the eastern part of the county for oil and gas development. The proposed ordinance creates a special development overlay on 1,782 square miles of the county, allowing oil and gas developers to apply for drilling permits in areas within the north and west escarpment of the Canadian River.
Molly Smollett, who along with Pacheco are members of the advocacy group Committee for Clean Air, Water and Earth, said 2,200 people have signed a petition asking the county commissioners to extend a moratorium on oil and gas drilling and fracking until “it can be proven safe, which it can’t.”
Pacheco said he got involved with protesting against fracking six years ago, when he met Kathleen Dudley, an anti-fracking activist who helped marshal support among her Mora County neighbors for a ban. “I realized a lot of people didn’t know about fracking and what it meant,” he said. “I decided I better spread the word in San Miguel County.”
He studied up on hydraulic fracking and lobbied the Las Vegas City Council, County Commission and local legislators about the potential dangers.
Both Mora and San Miguel learned something by watching Santa Fe County’s fight against oil and gas drilling in 2007 and 2008. Santa Fe County didn’t ban fracking, but crafted a highly restrictive ordinance with plenty of hoops a developer has to jump through in order to drill.
Mora County commissioners, in a 2-1 vote, approved an ordinance banning fracking based on the community’s right to clean air and water. It was the first county in the nation to pass a so-called “community rights” ordinance, based on similar resolutions passed by towns. The commissioners are still waiting for a legal challenge to the ordinance, and several attorneys have offered to represent them if it happens.
San Miguel County hired Robert Freilich, the attorney who helped craft Santa Fe’s ordinance. But Pacheco, Smollett and others are worried the 116-page ordinance isn’t tough enough on hydraulic fracturing.
The Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico in January called on ranchers and business people to speak up on the benefits of oil and gas to the county’s coffers. The organization said that if San Miguel adopts something like Santa Fe did, there will effectively be three “no-drill” counties.
Pacheco would be happy for that to happen. “I would love to see San Miguel County ban hydraulic fracturing,” Pacheco said.
Contact Staci Matlock at 986-3055 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @stacimatlock.