Photo of Sandoval County meeting

By Mona Blaber

The battle between the citizens of Sandoval County and oil and gas developers has seen many twists and turns in the past three months.

The county’s Planning and Zoning Commission initially appeared prepared to recommend to the county commission an application from financially troubled SandRidge Energy to drill an exploratory oil well just 2 miles outside of Rio Rancho.

But after a surge of citizen activism, including thousands of messages to commissioners and hundreds of residents packing meetings, the zoning commission found SandRidge’s application didn’t meet existing zoning requirements.

At its next meeting, the county commission was expected to deny the application and consider a moratorium on new drilling while it updated its ordinances to address oil and gas development. It did neither, sending the application back to Zoning to allow Sandridge to address its application issues.

Then, in another surprise twist, SandRidge withdrew its application.

But we’re far from victory. With no ordinances addressing oil and gas drilling, the county could be forced to approve similar applications. Sandoval has drawn increased interest from development companies, in part because recent improvements in fracking technology have made the Mancos Shale formation under the county more attractive.

Thanks to allies at Food and Water Watch and Oil and Gas Accountability Project, the cities of Bernalillo and Corrales passed resolutions supporting a moratorium on new drilling while the county develops ordinances that protect against the potential damages of oil and gas operations.

But county commissioners are looking to New Mexico Tech, a mining school that is generally pro-industry, to help write drilling ordinances. And commissioners are considering exempting from protective ordinances the areas around tribal lands such as Counselor and Cuba, which are already feeling the brunt of unbridled oil and gas extraction. So citizen engagement is required to protect all citizens of Sandoval County.

Take ActionPlease call Sandoval County Chair Darryl Madalena at (505) 206-7470 and ask him to put on the commission agenda a moratorium on new drilling while the county develops ordinances to address oil and gas. If you have time, please report your call to riogrande.chapter@sierraclub.org.

Additional articles:

Rio Rancho Targeted for Drilling [December 2015] Don’t let SandRidge frack in Sandoval County! [January 2016] Community groups applaud recommendation to deny SandRidge application [February 2016] Sandoval County Moratorium On Oil and Gas Drilling [February 2016]

Featured image by Mona Blaber.

One threat removed, Sandoval remains vulnerable
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