Late last month, the elected officials of a small, rural New Mexico county became the first in the nation to vote for permanent poverty. Mora County’s unemployment is double that of most of the country and nearly 500% greater than that of some other parts of the state where oil and gas development is taking place, and 23.8% of Mora County’s residents live in poverty. With that in mind, you’d think that the Mora County Commissioners would welcome the jobs that are boosting the economy in the southeastern part of the state. Instead, they voted, 2-1—in a session that may violate the Open Meetings Act as the notice did not contain the date, time, and place of the meeting—to pass an ordinance that permanently bans oil and gas drilling.
Defending his vote, Chairman John Olivas, an employee of New Mexico Wilderness Alliance with no political experience, explained: “We need to create other jobs. First, sustainable agriculture; second, business development; and third, eco-tourism to keep people on the land."
Frank Trambley, the Mora County GOP chairman, disagrees: “In our economic climate, we simply cannot afford to needlessly throw the possibility for jobs down the drain.”
Currently, Mora County has no oil and gas activity—and now it looks like it never will (though the outcome of potential lawsuits could change that). But there is reason to believe that the potential for development and jobs is there. Shell Oil has 100,000 acres leased for development—not to mention private interest—in Mora County, and there are more than 120 leases on state lands within the county.
In adjacent Colfax County, there are 950 natural gas wells. There the Commissioners don’t seem too troubled by the activity. The Colfax Country Commissioners are looking at drafting an ordinance that would “allow oil and gas drilling to continue while setting standards and regulations to give county officials control over aspects of the industry’s work that affect landowners and other citizens.”
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