Saturday, October 10, 2009

Drilling lease gets Santa Fe Opera in hot water

Tacoma Washington News Tribune
By DEBORAH BAKER; Associated Press Writer
Published: 10/09/09 4:52 pm

Residents of pastoral Mora County have been watching records in the county clerk's office ever since the oil and gas industry began eyeing a big swath of land in the area.

What they found on file recently was a stunner: The Santa Fe Opera had given permission to drill on nearly 27,000 acres in Mora and neighboring San Miguel counties.

Turns out the opera company had been given the mineral rights in 2002 as part of a bequest from a longtime donor. She specified that it be used to support an apprentice program for young singers.

Drilling foes worry that oil and gas wells will pollute water and air, harm wildlife and ruin the quality of life in the agricultural area. They are outraged that an internationally recognized institution like the Santa Fe Opera could potentially profit from oil and gas drilling.

"I was shocked to see that the Santa Fe Opera's name was on this lease," said Kathleen Dudley, an artist and musician who has a small farm near the community of Ocate and co-chairs the watchdog group Drilling Mora County.

"To see an art company sell out the environment, that was a very egregious act as far as I was concerned," Dudley said.

When the opera lease, signed in April, came to light a few weeks ago, general director Charles MacKay said the opera was simply making a financially responsible decision. The opera received an upfront payment of $150,000 and stands to get a cut of future proceeds from the lease.

But the ensuing outcry has the opera changing its tune, with officials saying they will try to find a resolution that addresses people's concerns.