Sandoval County residents divided on oil and gas ordinance

SANDOVAL COUNTY, N.M. – Thursday night, Sandoval County commissioners may vote on where and how companies can drill for oil in the county. Those new rules have been two years in the making, but opponents say the rules are too lenient.

The commissioners are meeting Thursday to decide the fate of that ordinance, but opponents don’t think the new rules are enough to make sure drilling operations in the county are safe, and they want the commission to go back to the drawing board.

Sandoval County wants to continue taking advantage of its oil and gas resources.

“Oil and gas already brings $45 million last year alone in funding to Sandoval County’s public schools,” said Ryan Flynn, with the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.

Commissioners have created an ordinance with rules for companies drilling in the county to follow, but some don’t think the ordinance does enough.

“This particular ordinance is very weak, very permissive, requires no public comment or any kind,” said opponent Lew Fisher.

The eight-page ordinance written by the county’s Planning and Zoning Board bans drilling 750 feet from homes, schools, churches and cemeteries. A 26-page counter proposal by a citizen’s group adds hospitals, businesses and water wells.

“What I fear most is drilling through the aquifer. The industry will say they’ve never damaged an aquifer, but they’ve never admitted that they damaged an aquifer,” said Fisher.

However, the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association said the current regulations are enough to keep Sandoval County safe. They insist the county’s ordinance is based on a lot of research, with experts from the state and universities behind it.

“Every single air quality permit, all the drilling applications have public public notice and participation requirements already built into them. Financial insurance is required every time someone drills a well in the state,” said Flynn.

If passed, it will become law in 30 days.

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