What Issues Should the Sandoval County Oil and Gas Ordinance Address?
Prepared by Sandoval Citizens for a Good Oil and Gas Ordinance
Sandoval County is in the process of preparing amendments to its comprehensive zoning ordinance to address oil and gas extraction. Oil and gas extraction is a complex, technically sophisticated industry. It provides the energy that we all use regularly. It can bring benefits to the local economy, as well as revenue to state and local government coffers. It also presents risks to the local community, its economy, natural resources, and the health and safety of its residents.
Section 2 of the Comprehensive Planning Ordinance (section 2) contains the following language:
Purpose of Sandoval County Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance
The provisions of this Ordinance are designed to promote health and the general welfare of the County; to secure safety from fire, flood, and other dangers; to protect local water resources; to facilitate adequate provisions for transportation, water and wastewater systems, schools, parks and other community requirements; to conserve the value of property; and to provide for the compatible development of land and other natural resources in Sandoval County.
Selected Issues and Concerns about Oil and Gas Development
The following is a partial list of concerns and issues that were expressed during the county hearings on SandRidge Energy’s request (since withdrawn) for a zone change in order to drill an exploratory oil well near the city of Rio Rancho.
- Water use (where it would come from, how much) and pollution of aquifer
- Traffic impacts and road deterioration
- County skills, equipment, and funding to deal with fire, explosions and other emergencies
- Positive and negative impacts on county budget
- Inadequacy of state inspection resources
- Impact on real estate values
- Fracking and waste disposal
- Noise and light
- Impact on natural scenery and tourism
- Financial and environmental history of the company
- Liability issues: who pays for the damages?
During the process of developing an ordinance, the County will have to balance among competing interests. How can the county protect the health and general welfare of its residents, ensure that taxpayers are protected from any damages that occur, and encourage the responsible extraction of oil and gas?
Key elements that might appear in an oil and gas ordinance
Below are some possible provisions to include in a county oil and gas ordinance.
- Is consistent with state and federal regulations, as well as County comprehensive and area plans
- Requires pre-application meeting of stakeholders as well as well-defined public review and approval/disapproval processes
- Assesses fees to an applicant for the county to hire professional expert or consultant review
- Controls off-site public nuisances – traffic, dust, visual impacts
- Controls pollution – water, air, noise, light, vibration
- Requires protective measures for the Albuquerque Basin Aquifer
- Requires detailed, pre-permit assurances of safe practices to prevent accidents and to address them if and when they happen
- Requires specification of water usage, source of water and disposal of waste at each phase of development
- Requires pre-development baseline ground and surface water testing as well as air quality and noise level testing
- Requires setbacks from sensitive locations – streams, water wells, acequias, schools, hospitals, churches, homes, cultural and historic sites, parks and designated wildlife protection areas
- Controls additional impacts: pipeline routing, waste disposal (on-site and off-site), abandoned wells, reclamation, seismic activity
- Covers county impact costs – road maintenance and deterioration, reviews and inspections, law enforcement, medical and drug treatment, emergency services (fire, ambulances)
- Determines sensitive areas that may be permanently damaged by drilling (“suitability”) as well as areas that are suitable for drilling
- Requires a cultural resource protection plan
- Requires a review of an applicant’s financial and environmental violation history
- Includes reliable financial assurance requirements to pay for damages
- Requires regular, independent monitoring and inspections
- Includes meaningful violation penalties and remedies
- Provides remedies for possible property right impacts
- Provides for post-abandonment reclamation, monitoring and remediation