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NM's Sandoval County Pressured for Tougher Oil and Gas Ordinance

New Mexico's Sandoval County Commissioners will face tough opposition when they meet Nov. 16 to pass an ordinance on oil and gas drilling. (
New Mexico's Sandoval County Commissioners will face tough opposition when they meet Nov. 16 to pass an ordinance on oil and gas drilling. (
November 7, 2017

BERNALILLO, N.M. - Opponents of an ordinance to allow more oil and gas drilling in Sandoval County say amendments are needed to strengthen the permitting process and protect the area's drinking water.

The county commissioners will meet November 16 to review an ordinance that would grant the county's planning and zoning director sole authority to approve drilling and fracking, with start-up allowed in as little as 10 days without public notice or input.

Miya King-Flaherty with the Sierra Club's Rio Grande Chapter says the ordinance does not adequately address protecting drinking water supplies for more than half a million people.

"This ordinance assumes that federal and state regulations for oil and gas are sufficient but we know that they're not and the county is able to put in place regulations that are even stronger than state and federal regulations," she explains.

King-Flaherty says in addition to limited public input, there has been no meaningful tribal consultation on the ordinance. The governor of New Mexico's Pueblo San Felipe has disputed a claim by the commission chairman that they were in favor of the ordinance as written.

Opponents of the ordinance say if approved, citizens would bear the risks and costs associated with oil and gas drilling including water pollution, soil and air pollution, noise and spills. King-Flaherty says oil and gas companies that violate the ordinance could lack the incentive to be good neighbors because fines for violating the regulations are so low.

"They're at $300, and these fines don't distinguish between minor or major violations and we know that a $300 fine is not going to force oil and gas companies to be a good operator," she says.

At the last public meeting on the issue, Sandoval County Commission Chairman Don Chapman angered those attending when he reduced the amount of time opponents were allowed to speak, saying he'd already heard all of their arguments.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM