Mora County, a low-income ranching area in oil-rich New Mexico became the first county in the U.S. to ban hydraulic fracturing last month, the Los Angeles Times reports. Wells are the only source of water for the county’s 5,000 residents, so officials are wary of the oil and gas drilling technique that could compromise the groundwater.
“I don’t want to destroy our water,” Roger Alcon, a 63-year-old resident of Mora County, told the LA Times. “You can’t drink oil.”
By voting for the ban, landowners opted out of potentially hefty royalty payments from drilling companies. Residents who spoke to the newspaper expressed other concerns:
Sandra Alcon said her neighbors don’t care about mineral rights or oil money. They are angry about the way energy companies’ “land men” treated them. Residents here are seen as easy marks for hustlers offering little compensation for oil and water rights, she said.
“They know we have a lot of elderly and rural people; some don’t speak English,” she said. “They don’t know that some of us went to college and some of us have the Internet.
“I may look stupid, but I’m not. I know what they are doing.”
Meanwhile, the Interior Department is facing more obstacles to finalizing rules for fracking on federal lands, a process which has already been dragged out for over a year. The powerful industry group American Petroleum Institute wants the public comment period for the rules to be quadrupled to 120 days, the Hill reports.
A previous draft of the rules was criticized for giving significant ground to drilling companies, who would not need to disclose chemical components injected into the ground until after drilling was completed.
*Correction: an earlier version of this post referred to Mora County as a conservative county, as it was described in the Los Angeles Times report. Mora County actually leans Democratic, which can be seen in 2012 election results. Thanks to Matthew Reichbach for the tip.