ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The driving force behind an ordinance that made a northern New Mexico county the first in the country to ban fracking lost his seat in this week's primary, raising new questions about the future of the ordinance.
John Olivas, an outfitter who also serves as northern director of the conservation group New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, lost his Mora County Commission seat to George Trujillo in a three-way Democratic primary Tuesday. There is no Republican on the ballot in November.
Olivas told the Albuquerque Journal (http://bit.ly/SfQ1q5 ) that, like many in the county, he considered the election a referendum on the fracking ban.
"With the people that voted, that was the main issue . I would say that 70 or 80 percent of the people that live here are against oil and gas, but they didn't vote," he said, acknowledging that he was surprised by the outcome.
But Trujillo, who won 60 percent of the vote, disagreed.
"I think it played a role, but I can't say a major role," he said. "There are a lot of issues facing this county, and that was one of them. I will say this: There are a lot of people afraid of oil and gas, but they're also afraid of lawsuits."
There are two lawsuits challenging the ordinance. One was filed by private landowners and the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico, the other by a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell.
In another county commission race, incumbent Paula Garcia soundly defeated an anti-fracking opponent in the Democratic primary.
Garcia cast the lone vote against the ordinance last year - not because she supports oil and gas exploration in Mora County, she said, but because she had concerns about whether it would stand up in court.
"I would not interpret my win as the people of Mora County wanting oil and gas," she told the Journal. "My position has been firm that we should take as strong a position as possible to protect our land and water. I think my winning a race for re-election was an affirmation of my position that we do want strong protections, but we want that to be done with laws that will stand up in court."
Garcia, who faces Republican Tim Fresquez in November, said it's too early to tell what will happen with the ordinance next year.