- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Mora County commissioners voted to continue an oil and gas drilling ban that has triggered lawsuits from the industry while gaining the support of residents concerned about pollution.

The ban adopted in an April 2013 ordinance made the northern New Mexico county the first in the nation to permanently prohibit drilling.

Two commissioners recently said they planned to repeal the ordinance. But only one reversed his position Tuesday, making the 2-1 vote favoring the ban a surprise.

Commissioner Alfonso Griego initially told about 40 people at the meeting that he saw little choice but to repeal the prohibition because of the expense of fighting lawsuits filed by the oil and gas industry. He changed his mind after hearing impassioned testimony from the public.

“I persuaded myself to vote that way. I didn’t succumb to pressure,” Griego said in an interview with the Santa Fe New Mexican (https://bit.ly/1sdkgfq ).

Despite the vote, Griego said he expects the commission to repeal the ordinance in January, when George Trujillo, an opponent of the drilling ban, takes office. Trujillo defeated incumbent John Olivas in June’s Democratic primary and said he is leaning toward repeal.

Commissioner Paula Garcia has consistently voted against the ban over concerns about whether it would stand up in court.

Tens of millions of barrels of oil and gas are produced in New Mexico each year. The hotbeds for drilling are now in the southeastern and northwestern corners of the state, but some Mora County residents are concerned that companies might start to look at the county as a potential spot for oil and gas development as technology improves.

Olivas has been the driving force behind the ban and voted against repealing it Tuesday, saying no community should be bullied by the oil and gas industry into accepting the medical and environmental dangers of drilling.

That feeling was echoed by residents at the meeting. Wagon Mound resident Theresa Carmody was among those who feared water supplies could be contaminated if drilling were allowed.

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Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, https://www.sfnewmexican.com

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