Sandoval County is in the process of amending its comprehensive zoning ordinance to deal with oil and gas extraction. This all started in November 2015 when SandRidge Energy Inc., an Oklahoma-based oil and gas company, applied for a special-use permit to drill near Rio Rancho city limits. Citizen groups pushed back and exposed Sandoval County’s lack of ordinances to protect water, roads, cultural resources, property values, or health against oil and gas extraction.
An ordinance is a police power that the county implements to protect and promote its residents’ public health, safety and general welfare. Sandoval County’s current oil and gas ordinance does not go far enough. The draft does not require oil and gas companies to conduct environmental impact assessments before drilling; lacks considerations for cultural, archeological, recreational and wildlife sites; and much more.
How was this ordinance drafted?
Sandoval County Commissioners directed the Planning and Zoning Commission to develop an ordinance, which was written by Planning and Zoning Department staff with little knowledge or technical expertise on the oil and gas industry.
The Planning and Zoning Commission received the ordinance drafted by the staff and notified the public for a hearing. The Planning and Zoning Commission may request changes to the draft based on public input, or vote and recommend it to the county commission. Once the County Commission officially receives the recommended draft, it, too, must hold public hearings and receive written and spoken comments. The commission could send the draft back to the Planning and Zoning Commission to incorporate the new and important changes, or vote to approve it so it finally becomes law.
Once the County Commission officially receives the recommended draft, it, too, must hold public hearings and receive written and spoken comments. The commission could send the draft back to the Planning and Zoning Commission to incorporate the new and important changes, or vote to approve it so it finally becomes law.
Update 12/19/2017 – In a surprise vote at the at last Thursday’s Dec. 14 County Commission meeting, the commission voted 4 – 1 against advancing the Stoddard ordinance and the amended Heil version. The commission will now consider sending the ordinance back to the Planning and Zoning Commission for further review and creation of a much better ordinance at the January meeting. The County Commissioners are listening to the people.
Update 11/21/2017 – The County Commission have pushed the final vote for adopting the Stoddard ordinance to January 2018. One amendment would allow for permits to be processed under Conditional Use, meaning the public will be notified and a hearing held when drilling permits are applied for, but only for more populated community districts in the county. Communities deemed to be in less populated, rural areas would retain the Permissive Use provision, meaning no public notification, a hearing or input, thus dividing the county.
Update 9/26/2017 – The County Commission has voted 4 – 1 to publish and post the current Stoddard ordinance that lacks minimal safeguards to protect public health, water, and the environment from the impacts of oil and gas drilling. The commission favors oil and gas interests over public health and safety. A “Citizens Ordinance” that laid out well-balanced, common-sense protections for county residents was not even considered by the commission. The citizen’s ordinance is based on proven components from other successful ordinances, as well as elements from various Sandoval County drafts.
Update 8/24/2017 – Planning and Zoning Commissioner Daniel Stoddard and County Commissioner Chapman have decided to bypass the Planning and Zoning Commission altogether. Chapman has requested a motion to publish and post Stoddard’s draft ordinance at the August 24th County Commission meeting. Once it’s published and posted, the Commission can vote on the ordinance at a subsequent meeting. This ordinance is worse than the current draft ordinance and is very pro-industry.
Update 8/2/2017 – The County Planning and Zoning Commission is considering whether to scrap the draft and instead approve drilling permits using Special Use provisions in the existing Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance. This means the County can approve each oil and gas application based on a set of general standards rather than amending the Ordinance to outline more specific requirements.
The Stoddard ordinance has serious flaws
The Stoddard ordinance calls for drilling permits to be administered through permissive-use instead of special-use. This means that Planning and Zoning Director Mike Springfield will have sole authority to process and approve drilling permits, eliminating the need for a public hearing or input. Permits will simply be qualified by a checklist, then approved within 10 days. This ordinance also allows for operational noise at higher levels than federal requirements, does not require water monitoring, imposes meager penalties on companies for violating laws, and allows for wells to be drilled within 750 feet of schools, churches, hospitals, and houses.
Actions you can take
- Contact your County Commissioner
- Attend public meetings
- Comment at public meeting
- Write a letter to the editor
- Sign a petition
The process for extracting oil and natural gas from shale rock uses an advanced technology called horizontal fracking (fracking), which combines horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing. A single well can be drilled to depths of up to 2-miles or more, requires millions of gallons of water, and uses hundreds of chemicals to make operational. Visit the links below for more information about the issues and impacts of fracking:
Hydraulic Fracturing 101 (Earthworks)
The Social Costs of Fracking Report: A Pennsylvania Case Study (Food and Water Watch)
The Urgent Case for Ban on Fracking (Food and Water Watch)
Letters of support
Send a copy of your letters to Miya King-Flaherty