Regulating frac-sand mining will not be enough, according to Mora County (N.M.) Commission Chair John Olivas.
Olivas and Steve Luse, representing the local Community Rights Alliance, met with the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors last week to discuss the Mora County Community Bill of Rights, which bans oil and gas extraction through fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking. Fracking is the process which utilizes frac sand, a resource available in Northeast Iowa.
Locally, Allamakee County recently passed an ordinance restricting the mining of frac sand or silica sand used elsewhere to extract natural gas and oil. Two weeks ago, the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors extended an 18-month moratorium on the issuance of conditional-use permits for the mining of frac sand, from December until Oct. 15 of next year.

Three options
Olivas, whose county was the first in the nation to approve a community rights-based ordinance banning fracking, said there are only three options a municipality has when faced with such a situation:
“First, you can do nothing. If you do nothing, corporations will come in.
Second, you can regulate them. If you do this, you give them an open door to come in under certain conditions.
Third, you can ban them. This allows you to assert your community rights at the grassroots level,” he said.

Mora County
Olivas, who holds degrees in biology and environmental science, was elected to the Mora County Commission in 2010. In April of 2013, Olivas led the fight to keep large-scale mining company operations from fracking in Mora County.
Mora County enlisted the help of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) and the New Mexico Environmental Law Center.
He said by the time the locals understood what was happening, corporations had already leased 140,000 acres for gas extraction.
“Our ordinance was reactive, rather than proactive,” he said, explaining it passed on a vote of 2-1.
Olivas said the Community Bill of Rights ordinance passed by his county “protects the environment and resources within the community.”
“When there were corporations coming in and wanting to compromise our resources, we had to think about what this influx of industry would do to our community’s culture and heritage. Our community had to stand up and dictate what was going to happen to our culture and heritage,” said Olivas.

No zoning
Olivas explained, unlike Winneshiek County, Mora County is zoned entirely agricultural.
“Our backyard is the Pecos Wilderness. We are in an area where we are the first users of water (in the state’s water table). When industry is coming and wanting to compromise that, and our water feeds the rest of the state of New Mexico, we didn’t want anything to do with that,” he said.

No regulation
Olivas explained corporations lease both private land and public land in New Mexico for fracking.
He said regulation isn’t possible in Mora County because it isn’t structured to regulate those kinds of industries within the community.
“Eighty percent of our (financial) issues concern roads. With a million-dollar budget, there is no way we can regulate oil and gas,” he said.

Whose rights?
When Supervisor Dennis Karlsbroten asked whether or not private land owners retain their own mineral rights, Olivas said, “Some do, some do not.”
“It’s a split estate. Some own the surface rights, but not the subsurface rights,” he said.
To complicate matters, Olivas said often property owners aren’t aware of who owns the rights without doing a significant amount of research into it.
“It’s all public information, and ‘Oil’ and ‘Gas’ spent a lot of time trying to identify that,” he said.

The status
Olivas explained as the result of the ban, Mora County is involved in two lawsuits, one with private landowners and one which concerns state land.
“If we get away with it (the ban) in Mora County, it could be a snowball effect … It’s a David and Goliath story happening. This is a game-changer for corporations and they need to stop us now,” he said.