Will Sandoval County choose oil and gas over people? 

By Miya King-Flaherty, Chapter Public-Lands Fellow

On September 21, the Sandoval County Commission voted 4-1 to consider an oil and gas ordinance that would shut out public input and endanger drinking water. But there’s still time to stop it.

Planning and Zoning Commissioner Dan Stoddard’s ordinance would give one county staffer sole authority to approve or deny drilling applications — with no public notice or input, no hearings, and no commission vote.

All an oil or gas company has to do is to fill out an application. The staff is only required to make sure it is complete — then within 10 days the department director must grant a permit.

This means a well could be drilled anywhere in the county that is zoned for it, and the public or property owner would not be notified or have any recourse to dispute it.

The ordinance also wouldn’t require baseline groundwater testing or post-drilling monitoring. That puts the Albuquerque and Rio Rancho aquifers, used by Sandoval County, Rio Rancho and Albuquerque, at risk of contamination from chemicals used in drilling, fracking and production.

The commission’s vote was to post the ordinance for consideration, and it is scheduled for a second publish-and-post vote at the Oct. 19 commission meeting. The commission may make changes to the ordinance. If that occurs, a final vote can come as early as November.

Representatives of the oil and gas industry were given reserved seating at the Sept. 21 meeting, but more than 200 residents showed up to oppose the Stoddard ordinance. When the room filled, about 75 people were shuttled to an overflow room and not allowed to sign up to speak. Still, comments opposing the ordinance dwarfed the few oil and gas and non-county residents supporting it.

Stoddard has claimed the state already protects groundwater at drill sites. That is not true. The state neither requires monitoring wells nor does monitoring itself. In fact, while oil and gas companies have been cited for thousands of violations since 2010, the state Oil Conservation Division has not levied a single fine.

The Stoddard ordinance requires only a $300 fine for a violation. Counties can and must go further than the state to ensure that oil and gas operators are acting responsibly and not endangering Sandoval families’ drinking water and health.

At a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting earlier in September, Sandoval resident Mary Feldblum presented the “Citizens Ordinance,” which lays out strong, common-sense protections, based on proven components from other successful ordinances, as well as elements from various Sandoval County drafts.

“Hundreds of residents have attended county meetings asking for strong safeguards against oil and gas damages. We have even presented the Citizens’ Ordinance as a responsible alternative,”  Sandoval County resident Randy Erickson said. “Somehow the commissioners seem to listen to the few, not the many.”

“If the Stoddard ordinance is passed, it will mean multiple SandRidges — and you remember SandRidge — except we won’t have the chance to object,” Erickson said.

Please attend the Oct. 19 meeting and write to your commissioners to tell them to reject the Stoddard ordinance and adopt the Citizens Ordinance. Write to miya.king-flaherty@sierraclub.org for more information.

“I hope county commissioners listen to their constituents, listen to the facts and adopt the Citizens Ordinance rather than weak regulations that give residents no say,” said Placitas resident Connie Falk. “The people of Sandoval County have spoken: We want clean, safe drinking water, clean air, peace of mind, stable property values. The Citizens’ Ordinance can give us that, not the industry giveaway they are currently considering.”

Will Sandoval County choose oil and gas over people? 
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