By Benton Howell
Rio Grande Chapter
When an energy company comes to town and asks for quick response to its requests to drill a fracking well within a water-conservation area, and about 2 miles from a residential community, it already has some issues to overcome. But when it asks for a waiver from following the process that the county ordinance has in place to regulate such proposals, things can get unpleasant fast.
This is what happened in Sandoval County in New Mexico on December 10. The planning and zoning commission (P&Z) had a new proposal by SandRidge Exploration and Production to amend the county zoning map so a fracking well could be drilled to a 10,500-foot depth [links to agenda and presentation].
The planning director approved the waiver, and thus citizens were not able to engage in a pre-approval hearing where they could have learned what was actually being proposed. The P&Z wisely moved the meeting to a large atrium. More than 60 residents, most of whom had learned about it by reading an item in the local paper the day before, showed up.
First, the representatives of SandRidge were questioned by commission members. Some of the questions tried to differentiate between the exploratory phase, which was the first step to be approved, and the second step, the production phase. Water usage was a big issue. SandRidge says it would need 840,000 gallons of water. Thousands of gallons of chemicals would be used in this drilling activity. The water that came out of the well would be transported by truck to Cuba, N.M., for disposal.
Twenty-three attendees gave two-minute comments. The tone of the comments was one of dismay and anger that the county government was willing to endanger their neighborhoods and moreover trying to move things along quickly without allowing the citizens affected to know what was about to be passed.
One issue of particular concern was that SandRidge was actually financially unstable and this could pose future problems if problems arise — as in accidental spills. SandRidge only had to guarantee that it could plug the well. Another issue was that up to four wells could actually be drilled on one 40-acre zone.
Some of the comments stressed that the county should not allow the process to reach completion without having comprehensive ordinances in place, and to allow all participants to review the evidence that this was going to be safe for the community. Several speakers asked for a temporary moratorium to allow proper time for updating the ordinances and to make sure that the proposed actions were completely understood. There is a continuation of this meeting planned for January 28. Watch your email for more information, and write to email@example.com to get on the email list for updates on this issue.
Photo by Del Duncan, Clouds Over the Sandias, taken from Rio Rancho mesa.