By Miya King-Flaherty/ Our Wild New Mexico
Nearly 200 people attended the Sandoval County Commission meeting on Nov. 29 expecting the commission to adopt an oil and gas ordinance that had serious flaws.
What started out as a relatively protective measure drafted by the citizen “Science Team” was stripped of decent safeguards by the commission.
After a series of revisions, the final draft did not require baseline water testing and ongoing monitoring near private wells anywhere in the county, allowed for an exemption to permit unconventional fracking in the Rio Rancho Estates area, did not provide for adequate public notice or for local public hearings in the San Juan Basin, and ignored the needs and requests by tribes for consultation.
The commission was likely concerned that the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association had threatened to sue the county if the ordinance passed.
By the time the agenda item to discuss oil and gas came up at the meeting, the commission did not have the second vote needed to advance the motion, which prevented a final vote. Since the motion failed, Chairman David Heil tabled the oil and gas ordinance for the year.
In closing, Heil noted that the commission received various comments opposing the ordinance from the public, industry, environmental groups and tribes. The All Pueblo Council of Governors also sent the commission a resolution requesting tribal protections, adequate tribal notification, and consultation that were lacking throughout the ordinance and the drafting process.
Commissioner Kenneth Eichwald also gave a closing comment noting that in the end, the commission did what the citizens wanted and waited for the results of the New Mexico Tech Study before voting on a final ordinance and appointed a citizens working group to develop an ordinance.
Eichwald also cited a recent comment by current State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn that oil and gas operators have committed hundreds of violations in New Mexico. He went on to say that it is incumbent upon the state government to deal with oil and gas development issues in New Mexico.
For now, the process of applying for drilling permits reverts to the current “special use” permitting under the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance. Any drilling application received by the county must go before the Planning and Zoning Commission for a public hearing and input. Then the Planning and Zoning Commission must make recommendations to the County Commission, where the application is subject to another public hearing and input before a decision is made by the County Commission.
The county still needs an ordinance to protect it against abuses and liabilities from companies that want to drill in Sandoval County. Please stay tuned for how you can help. If you would like to receive updates and action alerts, please email Miya King-Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the Sandoval Ordinance Issue listserv.