Drought map of New Mexico. As oil and gas executives look to New Mexico as the next major area to develop natural gas, one county is taking preventative measures to protect its water. The Los Angeles Times reported this week that Mora County in New Mexico became the first county in the U.S. to ban oil drilling and the controversial technique of hydraulic fracturing. For Mora County, fracking is particularly contentious because everyone relies on water wells. The county is the first county to ban fracking, but it joins many cities that have already banned it. Commissioner Alfonso Griego told E&E News last month that, “he supported the measure because he feels that federal and state laws fail to adequately protect communities from the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. They just come in and do whatever is necessary for them to make profits. There is technology for them to do it right, but it’s going to cost them more money. They’re not willing to do that yet. So we don’t want any oil and gas extraction in the county of Mora. It’s beautiful here.” Fracking relies heavily on water, by injecting a chemical-filled fluid into the ground — and for areas that face exceptional drought, that means oil and gas companies must compete with farmers and others for already scarce resources. The problem is worse in western states like New Mexico, where it is covered in exceptional to extreme drought. Separate studies have found that fracking drains water resources also used by farmers. Beer manufacturers have even joined the fight against fracking, because they worry it will drive up costs to brew beer. Limited water supplies is far from the only issue that worries residents. A peer-reviewed study found that fracking is linked to flammable water, and the Environmental Protection Agency is preparing its own peer-reviewed analysis on fracking’s impacts on drinking water to be released in 2014. Still, at the federal level, regulations have moved slowly. Before releasing the latest draft rules, the White Hosue met 20 times with oil and gas industry groups. The Bureau of Land Management proposal will allow companies to withhold chemical disclosure as trade secrets and adopt the industry’s currently self-regulated FracFocus website, which already fails to meet basic disclosure needs according to a Harvard study. In the meantime, certain states, cities, and now counties have stepped in instead. On Thursday, the Illinois House approved a bill that regulates fracking. Meanwhile in North Carolina Republicans have pushed a bill that would prevent local areas from banning it.
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