“…Like A War Zone”: Worries About Increased Oil Drilling

“…Like A War Zone”: Worries About Increased Oil Drilling

Sarah Jane White, with her grandson, worries that someday, children won't be able to find clean water on the Navajo reservation.

Sarah Jane White, with her grandson, worries that someday, children won’t be able to find clean water on the Navajo reservation.
Credit Laura Paskus

Sarah Jane White’s walking to the top of a sandy hill near the eastern edge of the Navajo reservation. Along the way, she points to footprints in the sand. Her 4-year-old grandson, Albino, crouches to look. She shows him the prints of a horse, then a cow. Each time, he’s delighted.

It’s sunny and warm, though just a few days before the official start of winter. We walk past juniper trees, an old sweat lodge. Albino powers across the sandstone arroyo and on up the hill. The sky’s a deep blue. And depending on the breeze, the air smells like either sage or pine.

“Right now, there’s healthy people living here,” says White. “The air is fresh. It’s clean.”

White and her relatives are “allottees,” Navajo people living on lands deeded to them by the federal government.

The federal government deferred new oil leases near Chaco Canyon National Historical Park last month. But many people who live here are still worried about how development outside the park will affect their communities, their landscapes, and their children’s futures.

If you’ve driven Highway 550 between Cuba and Farmington recently, you’ve seen the oil rigs and flares on federal allotments along the road near Lybrook and Counselor.

But people like White – people who live here – seem surprised to see how fast things have changed. “When they’re done sucking everything out, everybody’s going to pack up and leave and leave their trash behind,” she says. “Nobody’s going to clean it up. That’s what bothers me.”

Credit Laura Paskus

At the top of the hill, White looks out, across the landscape. From here, she can see four different wells in the distance. “I see the landscape looks really beautiful, but when you see all these oil tanks and fields, that’s not beautiful,” she says. “The flare, that doesn’t look good at all. And if we don’t stop this, it’s going to be all over the place.”

In the past two years, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has approved more than 100 new exploratory wells around here. Companies like Encana Corporation and WPX Energy have come in, offering tens of thousands of dollars to allottees willing to have a well on their lands.

Credit Laura Paskus

Each well pad has its own road, waste pond, and tanks. During drilling, pickup trucks and semi-trucks run up and down the roads 24 hours a day.

Lori Goodman directs the nonprofit, Diné CARE – Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment. “The leases are being sold… grandma and grandpa are selling their leases, they get $60,000, $80,000. They’ve never seen money like that, and they’re not understanding the value of it, even.”

Oftentimes, she explains, people don’t understand what they’re signing, and they don’t understand what’s going to happen on their lands.

That’s also a one-time payment – even if the well runs for decades.

Many Navajo people who live here are upset that the roads leading to their homes are being ripped up by semi-trucks. They’re afraid of fracking fluids. They don’t know what’s coming out of the flares. And they worry about blowouts and accidents that happen far – very far – from emergency services.

Victoria Gutierrez is Sarah Jane White’s daughter. “Especially at night, it’s enough to make you just cry. One of the ladies (said it) looks like a war zone. It’s just completely lit up,” she says. “All you see is flames everywhere, you smell that gas, that burning, it’s just ugly.”

Guttierrez knows that the wells mean money: lots of cash for people working in the fields, and depending on land ownership and jurisdiction, hundreds of millions of dollars for the state of New Mexico, the federal government, or the Navajo Nation tribal government and millions more in profits for the oil companies.

But she’s angry that Navajo people are living with the trucks and the flares, the noise and the fear.

“I think indigenous people, Navajos, we’ve been pushed around enough. We were forced to live on land no one wanted, (and) now everyone wants it because we’re full of natural resources,” she says. “It’s not right. And so, leave it where it’s at. Leave it where it’s at. That’s what I say.”

Guttierrez’s mom, Sarah Jane White, says Navajo people live where they are born. “Like, if I was born here,” she says, pointing to the ground between her feet, “I would live here. And I would die here. And I would want to be buried here. You don’t leave your homeland.”

That’s why they are fighting, she says. Because what happens now will still matter to the children born here in a century.


Forwarded by Leslie Lakind from

Charlotte Levinson, President

The Max & Anna Levinson Foundation
P.O. Box 6309, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87502
505-995-8802  levinsonfoundation.org

Santa Fe Global Water Festival promo video

Santa Fe Global Water Festival promo video




San Miguel County Passes Tough Oil and Gas Regulations

From La Jicarita

San Miguel County Passes Tough Oil and Gas Regulations.


Today the San Miguel County Commission unanimously voted to adopt the San Miguel County Oil and Gas Regulations ordinance, which uses zoning and stringent requirements to regulate how and where the oil and gas industry can explore, drill, and hydraulically “frack” within the county. At the last public hearing before the adoption of the ordinance, Robert Freilich, the land use law attorney who helped the county draft the ordinance, stated, “This ordinance is a lot better than Santa Fe’s ordinance.” He also acknowledged the hard work of the members of PROTECT San Miguel County, whose diligence in reviewing the ordinance and helping in its revision makes it one of the toughest in the country. After the commissioners passed the ordinance, they also thanked all of those who had worked so hard to make this a reality.

La Jicarita spoke with PROTECT San Miguel County member Bob Wessely about what makes the San Miguel County ordinance so strong. He described it as basically a “large collection” of details that have gone through four or five incremental drafts to address problems raised by his organization and by the public at the 15 or so hearings held over the last several years. He cited four areas in which the final draft is particularly rigorous:

  • Permit application processes and studies are extensive, including detailed environmental impacts, water availability, traffic, infrastructure, geohydrology, fiscal impacts and emergency response plans.
  • Regulations for enforcement now include the hiring of a well-qualified county inspector, paid for by the industry, who will be responsible for overall application review as well as frequent monitoring and inspections stipulated in the ordinance. The strong post-permit monitoring now includes a 10-year annual inspection of abandoned wells for possible leakage.
  • The industry is held responsible for all County costs, including application technical review, ongoing inspection and monitoring, and additional off-site infrastructure (roads, judicial system, etc.).
  • Protection and mitigation requirements have been expanded to cover all areas of potential impacts by the drilling process (surface water, groundwater, air, noise, lighting, traffic, viewshed, etc.).

These regulatory requirements will apply to the eastern portion of the county—the boundary line is about 30 miles east of I-25 and runs from north to south— where exploration and drilling will be allowed. The western portion of the county is off limits.


Other regulations that PROTECT requested or worked on with the county have also been included in the ordinance:

  • Pre-operation baseline testing requirements for air quality and water quality are extensive.
  • Air quality monitoring has been strengthened to protect county citizens from potential leaks of gasses during operations (drilling, fracking, and extraction). Closed loop systems are required. Open pit storage of fluids is prohibited.
  • Disposal of all wastes must be at state approved waste facilities, of which there are none within the county.
  • Water quality requirements were strengthened by designating which substances the industry has to test for.
  • Set back limits from drilling operations were established for a wide arrange of categories. Residential and school set backs are 4,000 feet, approximately a kilometer; non-residential structures are 1,000 feet; and groundwater recharge areas such as wetlands, acequias, and rivers are 1.5 miles. Conchas Lake, a popular recreation area, has a 2-mile set back.

I asked Wessely if he felt this ordinance would act to discourage oil and gas development because of its onerous requirements. He answered that it would certainly discourage a “fly by night” operator and would make large companies like Shell carefully consider whether it’s worthwhile, before engaging in the process. While there is currently no drilling taking place in the county, there are leases in the Watrous area (west of the dividing line) and some ranchers in the eastern area are desirous of having drilling on their ranches.

San Miguel County Board of Commissioners (L to R: Commissioner Marcellino Ortiz, Nicolas Leger, Consultant Steve Burstein, Dr. Bob Freilich, Commissioner Art Padilla, Commissioner Gilbert Sena, County Manager Les Montoya) final Oil and Gas Ordinance Public Hearing, 3 November 2014.

The San Miguel Oil and Gas Regulations were long in the making. La Jicarita asked Pat Leahan, with the Las Vegas Peace and Justice Center and PROTECT San Miguel County, to provide a timeline of how the public and county worked together to promulgate this ordinance.

  • In 2008 the Las Vegas Peace and Justice Center was asked by some folks in Mora County to look into leases that were being requested in Mora County, which prompted the Center to see if there were any leases also being pursued in San Miguel County.
  • In October of 2009 the Center went before the San Miguel County Commission to present the information that there had been drilling activity in 2006. The county was unaware of that fact and when it looked into county regulations involving extraction found that the regulations dealt primarily with gravel and other types of mining, not oil and gas.
  • San Miguel County Attorney Jesus Lopez directed the commission to look into drafting a moratorium on oil and gas drilling to give the county time to look into the issue.
  • At the November 10, 2009 county commission meeting the Peace and Justice Center presented documentation on the well that was drilled in 2006—location map, permit application, capping, etc.—and the Las Vegas Basin White Paper, a report that was commissioned by the group Drilling Santa Fe to analyze the impacts of potential drilling and fracturing in the Basin. The Center also presented this information to the mayor of Las Vegas who imposed a moratorium within the city limits.
  • On December 8, 2009, the County Commission adopted Resolution 12- 08-09-NATURAL RESOURCES, proposing the adoption of a one-year moratorium on conditional use permits for oil, gas or geothermal exploration, extraction, or drilling. A moratorium was passed on January 10, 2010.
  • In early 2010, after a screening of the film “Split Estate” a small group of people (Bob Wessely, Leslie Hammel-Turk, Brad Turk, Barbara Ehrlich, Kim Kirkpatrick, Carole Silon, Pat Leahan, Kate Daniel, Don Shaw, and Arielle Hawney) organized PROTECT San Miguel County to educate themselves and strategize on the issue of oil and gas development.
  • The Las Vegas Peace and Justice Center retained the New Mexico Environmental Law Center as a consultant to help draft an oil and gas ordinance. After consulting with Drilling Santa Fe it learned of Robert Freilich, the land use attorney who helped draft the Santa Fe County Ordinance. Freilich was subsequently hired by the county to help draft the San Miguel ordinance.
  • PROTECT San Miguel County sponsored and participated in many community forums and talks on Community Peace Radio to educate the public. A San Miguel County Oil and Gas Ordinance Task Force had been established and members of PROTECT joined the task force. The task force proved largely ineffective because of obstructionist tactics by the New Mexico Independent Petroleum Association representative.
  • The moratorium on oil and gas development was renewed several times for a total of four years.

While folks in San Miguel County are celebrating the passage of these regulations, neighboring Mora County is navigating tough legal terrain. In 2013 Mora County passed an outright ban on oil and gas development and is now embroiled in two industry lawsuits. Last week, U.S. District Judge Browning heard arguments on a motion for summary judgment in the SWEPI LP (a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell) vs. Mora County lawsuit. Based on his statements in the courtroom—“Some of these provisions are pretty wild; they’re pretty inconsistent with centuries of federal law” —it seems likely that at a subsequent hearing he will rule that either some of the language in the Mora County Community Water Rights and Local Self-Government Ordinance is unconstitutional or that the entire ordinance should be thrown out. Another lawsuit filed against Mora County by private landholders and the Independent Petroleum Association remains extant but settlement negotiations are ongoing.

Ghost Ranch Medicine Water Wheel

IMG_3030IMG_3028IMG_3021IMG_3031IMG_3035IMG_3012IMG_3019IMG_3022Ghost Ranch Medicine Water Wheel

The Medicine Water Wheel being built by the children from Abiquiu schools at Ghost Ranch as part of the youth track Friday at the Water Symposium last weekend, and Grandmother Flordemayo leading the Medicine Water Wheel Ceremony and dedicating the Water Wheel on the Sunday. See you there next year!

water events upcoming

Dear Water Friends,

Here are some upcoming events in Water World. It is raining while I type. Thanks for your prayers and blessings.

In that vein, I would like to draw your attention to an article I wrote in the latest issue of E.P.I.C Magazine, which just had it’s second Northern New Mexico issue out in Santa Fe/Alb./Taos area. It is called Dancing For Rain. (http://epicmag.org/pdfs/abq-march-april-2014/)

In it I mention Marshall “Golden Eagle” Jack, an Indigenous Elder who brought us the Medicine Water Wheel. He will be in New Mexico for a few days, firstly this coming Saturday (March 8th) at the Sacred land in Estancia NM where Grandmother Flordemayo, one of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, has a magnificent water wheel, other ceremonial sites and a Seed Library. Below is an invitation from Grandmother Flordemayo and The Path to spend a day with her and Marshall in drumming, ceremony and Circle. Contact us for carpooling, directions and details at healingthescars@gmail.com. Here is a link with directions: http://origin.library.constantcontact.com/download/get/file/1102567038497-198/Map+To+40+Acres.pdf

Information about Marshall and his work: www.waterwheelceremony.com


                This coming Sunday, March 9th, Marshall will be in Santa Fe for one day only and you are invited to join us in a Water Blessing Ceremony at the Medicine Water Wheel in Frenchy’s Park (Agua Fria/Osage, Santa Fe) at 2PM. We will share a pot luck afterwards at the park and in the evening you are invited to an evening with Marshall.  If someone at the Commons or someone with an inviting home would like to host the evening, it would be most appreciated. If you would like to put up Marshall and his companion that Sunday night, that too would be most appreciated. If not, tentatively the evening event will be at J Lynch’s home at 7 PM


Here is a description of the day’s offerings:
Marshall “GOLDEN EAGLE” Jack
Will be in Santa Fe Sunday March 9th
To share with us his journeys with the “Holy Ones”

Come and be present with One of Our Wisdom Keepers

Spiritual Updates
Star Clusters, Star Alignments Updates:
Mother Earth Movements
Plant Nation. Animal Nation, Water Nation, Climate Changes  Etc…

Talks of what to expect in the near future according to the indigenous

A Water Blessing At the Water Wheel in Santa Fe


              March 22nd is World Water Day. We will be doing a special Ceremony at 12 Noon in conjunction and harmony with many other groups around the world, here in Santa Fe and in New Mexico. The 13 Grandmothers have put out a call to the Women to gather and will be doing a Women’s Water Ceremony at Montezuma’s Well In Arizona. Here is the link (http://inthenameofthemother.net/world-water-day-water-blessing-ceremony/) Our ceremony is in solidarity with the women and a global momentum and collaboration for the healing of the waters everywhere. I will send out a more detailed notice of the day’s events. There will be healings with individual healers at Edwin Lemus’s La Cocina de Balam, which will be fully operating again. In the evening from about 4 PM on there will be more activities and a ceremony.
If you are planning an event related to World Water Day, please let us know and we will include notice of it in our poster and networking.


           On the weekend of April 4-6th, Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM is offering their second Water Symposium and as part of it the youth track will be building a Medicine Water Wheel. Grandmother Flordemayo will be leading a Dedication and Water Blessing at the Water Wheel and sharing an afternoon in lecture and conversation. More details on www.GhostRanch.org (877) 804 4678. We will be sending future updates with more details.
Raphael Weisman.

Please use water wisely and with reverence.



From Santa Fe New Mexican

FRACKING BAN A New Mexico county’s fracking ban is all about the water

A New Mexico county’s fracking ban is all about the water  Roger Alcon tends cattle on his family’s ranch in Mora County on May 16. Alcon’s family has run cattle in the area for five generations, and he supports the county’s ban on drilling for natural gas by using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, even though it would mean money for allowing drilling on his land. Julie Cart/Los Angeles Times

Posted: Sunday, June 2, 2013 10:00 pm | Updated: 11:24 pm, Sun Jun 2, 2013.

By Julie Cart
Los Angeles Times | 5 comments

OCATE — Sitting in the tidy living room of the home they built themselves, Sandra and Roger Alcon inventory what they see as the bounty of their lives: freedom, family, community, land, animals … and water.

“We’ve lived off the land for five generations,” said Roger Alcon, 63, looking out on a Northern New Mexico landscape of high mesas, ponderosa pines and black Angus cattle. “We have what we need. We’ve been very happy, living in peace.”

Wells are the Alcons’ only source of water. The same is true for everyone else in Mora County, which is why last month this poor, conservative ranching region of energy-rich New Mexico became the first county in the nation to pass an ordinance banning hydraulic fracturing, the controversial oil and gas extraction technique known as “fracking” that has compromised water quantity and quality in communities around the country.

“I don’t want to destroy our water,” Alcon said. “You can’t drink oil.”

In embracing the ban, landowners turned their back on potentially lucrative royalty payments from drilling on their property and joined in a groundswell of civic opposition to fracking that is rolling west from Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania in the gas-rich Marcellus shale formation.

Pittsburgh became the first U.S. city to outlaw fracking in November 2010 after it came to light that an energy company held a lease to drill under a beloved city cemetery.

Since then, more than a dozen cities in the East have passed similar ordinances.

The movement leapfrogged west last summer when the town of Las Vegas, N.M., took up the cause, calling for a halt to fracking until adequate regulations protecting public health are adopted.

It has now reached California, where communities are considering similar bans.

Culver City — home to the nation’s largest urban oil field — is drafting oil and gas regulations that call for a moratorium on fracking. Citizen groups in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara are preparing their own community rights ballot measures aimed at outlawing the procedure.

Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to fracture rock formations, releasing oil and gas that is hard to reach with conventional drilling methods. A blizzard of applications to sink wells using fracking is spurring a nationwide energy rush sometimes called the “shale gale.”

Among the leading concerns of opponents is the absence of any federal law requiring companies to fully identify the chemicals in their fracking fluids. Such formulas are considered by the industry to be a trade secret. Community-based anti-fracking campaigns — citing public health issues — call for complete disclosure of injection fluids.

Many New Mexico counties welcome oil and gas production, an industry that adds to the tax base and employment rolls. But in sparsely populated Mora County, where 67 percent of the 5,000 residents are Spanish-speaking, people cherish their culture and way of life.

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.”

Mora County, using its authority to regulate commercial activity, specifically barred corporations from fracking. The ordinance also established that citizens have a right to a safe and clean environment.

County Commission Chairman John Olivas said the ordinance is not a referendum on oil and gas. Rather, he said, it “is all about water,” estimating that 95 percent of the county’s residents support the ban, although some argue that the jobs and income that accompany drilling would help the depressed area.

Olivas, a hunting and fishing guide, said he grew up watching his parents work in the uranium mines of Eastern New Mexico. When the mines played out, towns shriveled up.

Chasing that boom-and-bust economy is not worth despoiling an environment that remains remarkably untouched and provides a sustainable living for most people here, he said.

“We are one of the poorest counties in the nation, yes, but we are money-poor, we are not asset-poor,” Olivas said. “We’ve got land, we’ve got agriculture, we’ve got our heritage and we’ve got our culture.”

The California community closest to adopting an anti-fracking ordinance is Culver City, which includes a portion of the 1,000-acre Inglewood Oil Field. More than 1 million people live within five miles of the field, where some 1,600 wells have been drilled since 1925.

The City Council is considering a fracking moratorium, even though only 10 percent of the field is within the city limits. The bulk of the wells are in unincorporated Los Angeles County.

City officials and residents say they are concerned about air and water quality, as well as about earthquakes being triggered by drilling at 8,000 to 10,000 feet — the depths where the untapped oil is found.

Low-magnitude earthquakes have been associated with fracking, but Ed Memi, a spokesman for PXP, which operates in the Inglewood Field, called suggestions that high-pressure drilling causes earthquakes “hysterical accusations.”

“There is no evidence that hydraulic fracturing has caused felt seismic activity anywhere in California,” Memi said. “The practice of hydraulic fracturing has been subjected to dozens of studies in recent years, and the fundamental safety of the technology is well understood by scientists, engineers, regulators and other technical experts.”

But Meghan Sahli-Wells, Culver City’s vice mayor, said the city needs to see more study of fracking’s impact before it could be allowed.

“I grew up in L.A. All my life I’ve heard about air-quality problems, earthquakes and water issues,” Sahli-Wells said. “It just so happens that fracking really hits on the three major challenges of this area. Frankly, I’ve been waiting for people to wake up and say, ‘We are fracking on a fault line? Is this really in our interests?’ “

If Culver City moves forward with a moratorium, it could take months to complete, she said.

Fracking is unregulated in California, and no accurate figures exist detailing how many of the state’s wells are completed using the technique.

A number of anti-fracking bills are pending before the state Assembly, and statewide regulations are being finalized by the state Department of Conservation.

Sahli-Wells endorses legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Culver City, that calls for a moratorium on fracking in California until a comprehensive six-year study can be undertaken.

“Look before you leap” legislation is pending in other states.

On a recent day back in Mora County, Roger Alcon drove his ranch with his herding dog, Pepper, at his side. He said the region’s aquifer has been depleted by oil and gas operations in the region. He sees no reason to hasten the water decline.

Alcon pointed out the truck window toward the snowcapped Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

“We have what we need,” he said. “To me, the fresh air and the land, and water. It’s better than money.”

JourneySantaFe Collected Works

In the wake of the news that New Mexico’s drought is the worst in the nation, and Mora County’s decision to impose a moratorium on fracking, comes this Sunday’s meeting of Journey Santa Fe at 11 AM at Collected Works Bookstore and Café. This is the first of a series on water in New Mexico.Journey Santa Fe presents:
Overview of Water Law, Water Rights and Water Conflicts in New Mexico
with water law specialist Peter White.

Attorney Peter White will present an overview of water law, water rights, and water conflicts in New Mexico. He will follow up in two or three subsequent Journey Santa Fe gatherings to discuss in more detail New Mexico’s water problems, summing up of his work over the past 40 years.

Co-presenter attorney Denise D. Fort, Professor of Law at the University of New Mexico School of Law and Director of the School’s Utton Center, will discuss her booklet WATER MATTERS.
If you get that water is pivotal to our state’s existence, especially during this drought, you will want to attend. See you there.

Albuquerque Journal:

New Mexico’s drought worst in the country

By on Thu, May 2, 2013

POSTED: 7:54 am
LAST UPDATED: 12:07 pm

New Mexico this morning rose to the top of one of those lists of US states that you don’t want to be on. Drought conditions here are now the worst in the nation, according to this morning’s federal Drought Monitor:



The analysts who develop the weekly monitor significantly expanded their designation of “exceptional” drought, their worst category, to include much of the Rio Grande Valley, the state’s most populous region:…

Sierra Club Newsletter

Insider: The Sierra Club's Official Newsletter
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Editor’s note: The Insider team has decided to send out the newsletter on schedule today, but we cannot do so without first acknowledging the tragedy in Boston, which is paramount in our hearts and minds today. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, and the great, proud city of Boston.

Video: Another Tar Sands Disaster Video: Another Tar Sands DisasterExxonMobil is doing everything it can to deflect attention from Mayflower, Arkansas, ever since the company’s pipeline spill on March 29 spewed 85,000 gallons of tar sands crude into the community. The company even managed to get a no-fly zone established over the town. But it’s not managing to hide the truth: tar sand pipelines are disasters waiting to happen. Watch this video of tar sands crude flowing through the streets of Mayflower. The public comment period on the far more massive Keystone XL tar sands pipeline ends April 22.

Tell President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry to reject Keystone XL!

GET OUT! Explore
GET OUT!The Sierra Club is hosting hundreds of events around the country to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet this Earth Month, from service trips to art walks to tree-plantings to tours of nature preserves to fishing, backpacking, and biking trips. You can also attend conferences, seminars, potlucks, coffeehouse get-togethers, film screenings, and more.

Join a GET OUT event near you or start your own.

Don't Frack with California<br />
Don’t Frack with CaliforniaThe Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity won a landmark victory on April 8 when a federal judge ruled that federal authorities broke the law when they failed to consider the environmental impacts of fracking before they leased 2,700 acres of public land in Monterey and Fresno counties to oil and gas drillers. “The court recognized that fracking is different from the oil and gas development that California has known thus far,” said Sierra Club attorney Nathan Matthews. “Fracking and modern unconventional production have changed the game.”

Ask President Obama to protect our public lands and communities from fracking.

Photo by EcoFlight

No More Deepwater Horizons No More Deepwater HorizonsThree years ago this week, one of the worst environmental disasters in our nation’s history occurred when an explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 people and gushed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. But despite numerous recent disasters — from Shell’s rig running ashore in Alaska to ExxonMobil’s pipeline spill in Arkansas last month — Big Oil wants to double down on more dangerous drilling in the Arctic and off our coasts, as well as build the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Tell President Obama we need to protect our communities, coasts, and public lands from dangerous oil and gas drilling and spills.

Photo by Julie Dermansky

Las Vegas challenges mayor

Subject: “Recall Effort Under Way for Mayor [City of Las Vegas, New Mexico]”  Optic, NM

“….people upset at the mayor for refusing the Community Rights
Ordinance [banning drilling and fracking and asserting people’s
rights to a sustainable future and democracy in their community]
that seeks to make it unlawful for any corporation to engage in
the extraction of oil, natural gas or other hydrocarbons within
the city and its watersheds.

Ortiz, who doesn’t have veto power, has refused to sign the
controversial law, saying it’s unconstitutional because it
seeks to strip corporations of their rights.

The mayor brought up that issue Wednesday night, reiterating
that he opposes oil and gas drilling in the community but
didn’t sign the ordinance because of the language in it.”

The Community Rights Ordinance that the City of Las Vegas City
Council passed into law, April 2012 by a council vote 3:1, does
not challenge the State or Federal Constitution, as Mayor Oritiz
is stating above.

The Ordinance challenges a Supreme Court’s interpretation and
ruling that in 1886 set precedent giving corporations the same
rights as people–giving “personhood” to a corporation.

In the 2013 court ruling Judge O’Dell-Seneca challenged and
denied corporation’s protection under the Constitution as
“persons,” citing sections of the 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution
in support of her contention that corporations were never
intended to be constitutionally protected “persons.” She
declared that “an even more dubious proposition is that the
framers of the Constitution of 1776, given their egalitarian
sympathies, would have concerned themselves with vesting, for
the first time in history, indefeasible rights in such entities.
. . that language extends only to natural persons.”

She went on to declare that “it is axiomatic that
corporations, companies, and partnerships have no ‘spiritual
nature,’ ‘feelings,’ ‘intellect,’ ‘beliefs,’
‘thoughts,’ ‘emotions,’ or ‘sensations,’ because
they do not exist in the manner that humankind exists. . . They
cannot be ‘let alone’ by government, because businesses are
but grapes, ripe upon the vine of the law, that the people of
this Commonwealth raise, tend, and prune at their pleasure and need.”

(For the full editorial on this recent ruling, see attached pdf
“A New Civil Rights Movement:  Liberating Our Communities from
Corporate Control A Pennsylvania Judge Holds That Corporations
Are Not “Persons” Under the Pennsylvania Constitution” by
Thomas Alan Linzey, Esq., Executive Director
March 28, 2013

Drilling Mora County


Recall Effort Under Way for Mayor

By Martin Salazar
April 11, 2013

A notice of intent to recall Mayor Alfonso Ortiz was filed with
the city clerk’s office late Wednesday, setting in motion a
process that could lead to an election at which voters would
decide whether to oust Ortiz before the expiration of his term.

The effort to remove Ortiz from office is led by longtime
activist Lorenzo Flores, who has been critical of the mayor’s
actions in the past.

Flores announced that he had filed the notice during the public
input portion of Wednesday evening’s City Council meeting.

“I’ve come before you like David before Goliath,” Flores
said. “… Enough is enough.”

“Let nature take its course,” Ortiz later responded, saying
that Flores has a right to circulate the recall petition.

“As mayor of the city of Las Vegas, I’m not impressed with
the title,” he said.

“There’s a lot of responsibilites. I have stretched myself
physically; I’ve stretched myself financially to do as much as
I can for the city. My interest is to be very visible, make the
city look very positive.”

Flores didn’t specifically outline why he is targeting the
mayor for recall during his remarks.

“The people have to do what they have to do,” he said in
Spanish. “It’s nothing personal.”

City Attorney Dave Romero cut Flores off when he began talking
about the mayor’s appointments and their connections to a
hotel owner who Flores alleged is exploiting members of the community.

He said people in Las Vegas are struggling to pay their bills
and getting cut-off notices. Flores said city government needs
to help the people. He, along with his Brown Berets, left the
Council chamber after speaking.

Flores didn’t immediately respond to a message left for him
Thursday morning.

But in a letter to the editor published in the Optic in
February, Flores criticized the mayor for his continued support
of City Manager Timothy Dodge.

“Apparently, the mayor will not nor cannot function without
Tim Dodge,” Flores wrote.

“We are not better off with Dodge at the helm,” Flores
wrote. “Despite the mayor’s praise for him, Tim has divided
our business community, he continues to blabber-mouth our
chamber of commerce and the Las Vegas economic development
people. He has done nothing for the over 3,000 at-risk youth in
our city. He has done nothing for infrastructure improvements on
the west side.”

The notice of intent to file a petition of recall has 30
signatures, including several people upset at the mayor for
refusing the community rights ordinance that seeks to make it
unlawful for any corporation to engage in the extraction of oil,
natural gas or other hydrocarbons within the city and its watersheds.

Ortiz, who doesn’t have veto power, has refused to sign the
controversial law, saying it’s unconstitutional because it
seeks to strip corporations of their rights.

The mayor brought up that issue Wednesday night, reiterating
that he opposes oil and gas drilling in the community but
didn’t sign the ordinance because of the language in it.

Under the new city charter, 25 signatures are required on a
notice of intent to initiate recall in order to start the process.

The first signature on the petition is that of Francisco Lorenzo
Flores, and Mayor Ortiz asked the city attorney to explain why
that’s problematic if the signature belongs to the Flores who
appeared at the council.

Romero said Flores has previously been convicted, and as such,
he isn’t a qualified elector under the city charter and
isn’t allowed to sign the petition.

If 25 valid signatures are contained on the document, then the
next step is for a recall petition to be submitted to the clerk
for her approval as to form.

Organizers of the effort would then have 60 days to gather
signatures. In order to force a recall election, organizers must
gather enough signatures to equal or surpass 25 percent of the
people who voted in the last regular city election.

If enough signatures are gathered, an election will be held,
with voters deciding by a simple majority whether to recall or
keep Ortiz.

Ortiz said he’s trying to do the best he can for the
community, noting that he’s sacrificing time with his family
to do the job.

“I’m not here for the money,” he said. “I’m not here
for the $10,000 annual salary.”

He said he has worked hard to move the city forward on a number
of issues, including trying to improve its water infrastructure.

“The reason we’re working so earnestly to help the people
with this water issue, for example, is we’re looking ahead,”
Ortiz said. “I’m really concerned about the situation with
water. I’m saying without water we’re not going to survive.”


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Fracking Industry Greases Gears of Government in Tennessee


Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club

By Scott Banbury

States to the North and West of Tennessee―Illinois, Ohio and Arkansas―are already fracked. Other surrounding states―Georgia, Alabama and Kentucky―are in the industry’s sights, and it feels like there’s a big bullseye painted on Tennessee. While the industry has been dog piling on Pennsylvania, Ohio and Arkansas for production, they’ve been greasing the gears of government here in Tennessee, establishing their right to ruin in Illinois and beating back the opposition in North Carolina.
Due to current low prices for natural gas, the industry does not appear to be pulling a lot of permits in Tennessee at the moment, but with new regulations soon to be in place and a looming export market, with accompanying price hikes, they may be booming soon.

New state regulations on hydraulic fracturing, which are due to go into effect on June 18, do very little to protect water, land or air. These rules were drafted in 2011-12 by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC), with the assistance of the Tennessee Oil and Gas Association, and approved by the Tennessee State Oil and Gas Board in September 2012—just before the board became known as the Water, Oil and Gas Board.

While many organizations, including Sierra Club, Southern Environmental Law Center, Tennessee Clean Water Network, Tennessee Riverkeeper, Harpeth River Watershed Association, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning and more, submitted extensive comments and participated in numerous meetings, both public and private, few of our concerns were addressed and not one of our serious suggestions were incorporated.

These new rules essentially codify current practices, while ignoring mounting evidence nationwide that fracking is fraught with danger—poisoned wells and ground water from migrant methane and fracking chemicals, human and animal sickness from exposure to fumes and ground level ozone formation, polluted streams from run off from well sites and roads, and continuing contribution of fossil carbon to our atmosphere.

Instead, we’re offered rules that effectively deny public notice and participation, shield the industry from having to disclose the chemicals used to frack to the public, fail to protect landowners from damages by not requiring baseline testing of area drinking water wells before the fracking commences and establish an arbitrary 200,000 gallon water use threshold to trigger more stringent requirements, a requirement that may prove to be meaningless as all of the known fracking operations work under this threshold.

The rules have been sitting on the desk of Tre Hargett, Tennessee Secretary of State (who also happens to sit on the Executive Committee of the State Building Commission), since March 20, where they wait for 90 days before becoming the law of the land. During this time the Joint Government Ops Subcommittee on Rules Review may be required by State Administrative Procedures to hold a public hearing. Keep your ears and eyes peeled for action alerts.

On a parallel front, the State Building Commission’s Executive Committee unanimously voted without discussion to allow the University of Tennessee (UT) to move forward with their proposal to frack the school’s 8,000+ acre Cumberland Experimental Forest in Morgan and Scott Counties, despite the overwhelming opposition of the environmental community and concerned neighbors. Sierra Club, Frack Free Tennessee, Student Environmental Network and Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment turned out more than 75 people at a rally outside and dominated the public comments inside and despite losing the vote, we made the news in Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga and even the New York Times, with the Tennessean editorializing on our side.
UT now claims (since last year) that they only want to pursue oil and gas development on the property to “research” best practices, but the paper trail shows that they have been shopping the minerals around for at least eight years with a clear desire for revenue. The proposal is currently out for bid, and will return to the State Building Commission for final approval when UT negotiates a contract with a drilling company. That meeting should be lively as it has come to light that several of the State Building Commission members may have serious conflicts of interest. In the meantime, parameters of the “research” to be conducted, as private companies profit, will be advised by an advisory panel including representatives of the Tennessee Environmental Council, Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning, Statewide Organizing for Community Empowerment and Southern Environmental Law Center.

We have little reason to expect that the Joint Government Ops Committee will reject Tennessee DEC’s proposed fracking rules, and some folks in the environmental community think we should let them go into effect while we bird dog the industry with site visits targeting violations of the new rules in the interest of documenting needed revisions to the rules in a year or so. Others think we should reject the proposed rules, and petition for new rule making, knowing that we have a lot more informed folks ready to drive that process than we did two years ago, and some think that we might challenge some of the more egregious provisions, like the arbitrary 200,000 gallon threshold for chemical reporting, public notice and well sampling on substantive grounds. We also are inspired by the recent bill introduced that would require full public notice of exploration and mining permits, and wish to push for similar legislation.

On the UT front, we’ll be watching the development of “research” parameters closely, turning folks out in opposition to future State Building Commission meetings and engaging UT students who are working on fossil fuel divestment campaigns on their campuses. We’ll also be documenting what is at stake on the Cumberland Forest and positioning ourselves to do a little research of our own.

In the field, Sierra Club, along with partners Frack Free Tennessee, United Mountain Defense and students from University of Tennessee at Knoxville, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Middle Tennessee State University, will be launching an aggressive site violation and water monitoring program this summer, visiting currently permitted sites on public lands across the state. Fruits of this work will be GIS mapping of the industry’s current presence in the state, outreach to impacted communities and constituent building in advance of next year’s legislative session.

In Chattanooga, Stop Fracking Around Chattanooga (SFAC) is rolling out a campaign to pass fracking bans in the Chattanooga City Council and Hamilton County Commission. SFAC will also be embarking on an aggressive landowner/constituent outreach campaign to advise folks of their landowner rights and the dangers of fracking to their quality of life. Their campaign raises awareness of the dangers of fracking in the Chattanooga Shale formation, which contains known concentrations of uranium and radon gas, as well as Chattanooga’s legacy of being once “The Most Polluted City in America” when Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970, and the numerous abandoned mines that are being mitigated into perpetuity at taxpayers expense.

Regionally, the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club is networking with sister chapters and others in surrounding states to make sure that we are all sharing our experience with the industry and our state governments in the hopes of avoiding mutual pitfalls or missteps. Toward this end, I have arranged for time and space to have a regional discussion on fracking at the Heartwood Forest Council at Land Between the Lakes on Memorial Day weekend, May 24-27.

We are facing an invasion of the fracking industry. They have their eyes on exploiting oil and gas across two-thirds of Tennessee and we are the only ones that can, or will, stop them. At stake is our water quality, air quality, biodiversity, quality of life and the future of the planet. It is absolutely clear that we must leave all fossil carbon in the ground if we are to avert the worst of climate change. Think globally. Act locally. Join the fight.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.