Local opposition is slowing Shell’s plans to drill for “tight gas” in Mora County in North-Western Arizona. Until recently, extracting “tight” or “shale gas” wasn’t economically viable, due to the smaller quantities dispersed across a wider rock deposit. However, new techniques known as “hydraulic fracturing” or “fracking” allow oil & gas corporations to access these deposits, leading to aggressive new exploration and drigling programmes. Fracking involves injecting a slurry of sand and chemicals at high pressure into the rock. The fracking fluid weakens and fractures the surrounding rock, making it more permeable to the surrounding gas. Concerns over toxicity, health risks and pollution of water have led to much opposition to the technique by local communities in the US.
Shell (in the shape of Houston-based and wholly-owned SWEPI) has been pushing hard to drill for gas in Mora County. However, many of the 5,000 inhabitants of Mora are highly concerned. The Mora County Declaration of The Public Welfare states that
“The connection between our land, our water and our people has sustained our culture since the first settlements in Mora County and our future depends on keeping these connections strong. Water is a vital link which, if severed from the land, will also fragment our people from their land. The allocation of our limited water resources must recognize traditional subsistence agricultural and grazing activities as a priority over other types of more profitable land uses. Water is not just a commodity to be bought and sold or exploited for short-term gains. Water is the life blood of Mora County’s traditions, culture and land use. A sustainable future for Mora County requires protection of the most valuable resource for our communities – the water!”
Local residents have formed concerned citizen’s groups including Drilling Mora County.
Statements by local residents include this:
“I have spent my whole life in Mora County. Given that, it is naturally close to my heart. I learned at an early age, that each and every drop of water is precious. When you have to haul a jug down the hill each day to get your water out of the spring, water gains a whole new meaning. There aren’t many places left where you can drink straight out of the ground and not fear becoming ill from it. If unregulated oil and gas development enters Mora County, our children and grandchildren will never have that experience.
Mora County is a quiet place with a small population of approximately 5,000 people and the dubious distinction of being the 17th poorest county in the country. Abundant clean water, healthy wildlife, and an agriculturally based community reside on the sloping hillsides and in the green rolling valleys. If our county does not implement an ordinance such as the one in Santa Fe County, this could all be replaced with polluted water supplies, the all-night hum of gas wells, sick wildlife that is not fit to eat, and a population suffering the adverse health effects that so often accompany hydraulic fracturing.
A couple of years ago, KHL landmen came asking land owners to lease their mineral rights. These leases not only sign over mineral rights, but they also sever the landowners water rights from their property, which is a direct contradiction to our declaration of the public welfare. It appears that these leases will be sold to Royal Dutch Shell who is loudly touting their “good neighbor” policy and insistently claiming that we don’t need any form of legal protection because they have their own oversight boards. From observing history, I think it’s safe to say that all forms of power with the potential to be destructive need outside oversight to guarantee people’s safety. The Federal Government does not regulate the oil and gas industry, so it is up to individual counties to protect themselves.
Industry has told us that the chemicals they use are safe, and hydraulic fracturing poses no risk, yet there are many examples of illness and water contamination caused by industry, and they are adamantly against Mora County implementing an ordinance similar to Santa Fe’s. We need to ask the questions, if hydraulic fracturing is so safe and wonderful, then why do they feel the need to rewrite our Comprehensive Land Use Plan, and why are they so against a protective ordinance? An industry representative recently suggested to our county commissioners that if we wanted an oil and gas ordinance we should adopt one such as the one in Rio Arriba county. I have not read Rio Arriba’s oil and gas drilling ordinance, but given that it was suggested by industry, I am fairly sure that it offers little to no actual protection for the county.
Our resistance of unregulated oil and gas development must be based on facts, not emotions. It is difficult to set feelings aside when one is contemplating the destruction of all they hold dear; however, success depends on clear thinking and careful consideration of all facets of the situation. It is important to remember that industry representatives are quite good at what they do and are compensated very well for their time.
The oil and gas industry is not emotional, it is detached and calculating, with enough money to say whatever it wishes. The integrity of truth, and the knowledge we gain by educating ourselves is the power we have as citizens. We have the opportunity to protect Mora County before it is destroyed like Trinidad Colorado, Aztec New Mexico, Dimock Pennsylvania, Grandview Texas, Pavillion Wyoming, and so many other places in the United States.
You cannot eat money, and you cannot drink gas. This community is capable, and has a long history of, being self-sustained. Preserving that which cannot be replaced by any amount of money is an opportunity we cannot afford to pass up.