By Eleanor Bravo, Food and Water Watch Sandoval County resident
After multiple lengthy meetings and hundreds of debates and public comments, the Sandoval County Commission finally voted Dec. 14 to kill both the Stoddard and Heil oil and gas ordinances that would have given a blank check to the drilling industry.
With complete disregard for a $62,000 “review” tasked to New Mexico Tech, Chairman Don Chapman insisted that this poorly written ordinance was better than no ordinance at all. His was the only “yes” vote as both ordinances failed 4-1.
Commissioner Kenneth Eichwald had always opposed the ordinance, and Commission James Holden-Rhodes wrote a public letter this month saying the ordinance was being “force-fed” to constituents.
“It needs to be forcefully stated that any drilling in this area poses an extremely high risk for contamination of the drinking water aquifers,” he wrote.
The Stoddard ordinance, or an amended version of it proposed by Commissioner Dave Heil, seemed to have the votes to pass — until the Dec. 14 meeting.
“When I first proposed these amendments, I was thinking I was helping solve a problem,” Heil said at the meeting. “But since then I have done considerable learning about the aquifer and the Rio Grande rift, etc.”
Heil had proposed splitting the county into two zones, with residents of more populated areas receiving notice of drilling applications and public hearings, while rural residents would be denied notice and hearings.
Hundreds of citizens testified on the dangers of living near drilling rigs, threats to groundwater, damage to infrastructure, inadequate emergency services and a host of other issues at every commission meeting. The biggest issue was and still is the total disregard for the sovereign nations that have been residents of Sandoval County from time immemorial. Native governments were not included in the drafting or consideration of any version of the ordinance. Chapman did meet with the governors of some of the Pueblos in a social setting and said he really enjoyed it and they should do it at least twice a year. This is hardly government-to-government interaction. Pueblo governors came to meetings and expressed their grave concerns on multiple occasions.
Sandoval County is not alone in dealing with fossil-fuel exploration. Communities all across the country are faced with protecting their homes, property values, public health and failing infrastructure.
Here in the desert Southwest, we are protecting our water. Without clean, fresh water, we will have no jobs to offer. There would be slim possibilities for economic development or job opportunities. No one would want to come here to live among drilling rigs.
All residents agree that all residents should have all of the protections, and the rural areas should never be sacrificed for the benefit of big business.
The Stoddard and Heil ordinances are gone, and the issue will be sent back to Planning & Zoning. This whole ordeal is an example of citizen action demanding that elected officials act in the best interest of their constituents.
It’s not over! January 4 is the next meeting they will decide to send instructions to the Planning and Zoning Commission. Let’s make sure residents are heard from the very beginning this time.
Featured photo by Miya King-Flaherty