EDITORIAL: Get experts to debate

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By The Staff

During Mora County’s public hearing on oil and gas drilling, everyone agreed on one thing: Mora County is one of the most beautiful places in the world. And, indeed, the view is incredible.

Many of the speakers at the hearing said they didn’t want anything that would spoil the scenery, and in their minds, oil and gas drilling would do just that. They also contended that the drilling would cause water and air pollution.

To help their arguments, some ranchers came in from San Juan County to talk about the negative impacts of natural gas drilling there.

But lobbyists from the oil and gas industry disputed the claims that their activities hurt the environment. It was ironic how they praised the state Oil Conservation Division for doing such a great job in regulating their industry. Indeed, any casual reader of newspapers would know that the industry often fights with the agency, claiming its regulations are too harsh.

The Mora County hearing was prompted by a company’s efforts to lease mineral rights near Ocaté for possible gas drilling. Many in Mora County want the County Commission to specifically regulate drilling so as to protect the environment.

But everyone should keep in mind that the county can’t entirely ban drilling. After all, no government entity has the right to entirely prohibit a legitimate activity, because the Constitution protects property rights.

At the same time, the county has every right to regulate oil and gas drilling. In fact, it should — its duty is to protect the health and welfare of its residents.

At the hearing, many of the anti-drilling speakers referred to information that they believed to be true, but they didn’t have solid facts. That’s understandable because they aren’t hired experts in the subject, while the oil and gas industry’s representatives are presumably well-paid to lobby public officials.

As a possible next step, the commission could hold a public debate between experts on both sides of the issue. That would be greatly educational.

While the oil and gas industry has plenty of money to take county commissioners on junkets, our elected representatives must look out for the greater interests of the people they serve.