Sandoval County Oil and Gas Drilling Ordinance Update

The Sandoval County Planning and Zoning Commission (P & Z) met on Tuesday, July 11, 2017, to discuss the Oil and Gas Drilling part of the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance. It has been over one year since the Sandoval County Commission (Commission) requested that P&Z provide an ordinance to regulate oil and gas drilling. The latest draft of the ordinance is available on the County’s website.

The hearing had an overflow attendance with speakers from all areas of the County, the Pueblos, Albuquerque, and State Representative Derrick Lente.

The hearing began with a talk by Chairman Arango. He noted that the two options available to the County were: (1) proceed with crafting an ordinance that would have set regulations to apply to every application, no matter how different each one would be from another; or. (2) have no new ordinance and process each application as a special use where the P&Z, and, ultimately, the Commission would decide approval or denial based on the particulars of that application.

The next presentation was by the Assistant County Council who talked about State and Federal preemption of County ordinances. She noted that Federal and State law pre-empt County law and that the County should not adopt ordinances that either conflict or go further that Federal or State law.

Makita Hill, Assistant Director of the P&Z, made the next presentation. He said that the draft ordinance was in compliance with all State and Federal laws. He noted that State law deals with issues other than zoning and that the County ordinance deals just with zoning issues. Commissioner Maduena said that he was not comfortable with the State’s ability to inspect and enforce the regulations and asked why horizontal drilling is not regulated. Mr. Hill listed all of the State programs that deal with the issues of water quality, air quality, solid waste regulation and others.

The meeting was then opened to the public for comment. As previously noted, commenters came from all over the County and the Tribes and even from Albuquerque. Comments concerned water quality and the monitoring thereof. One person noted that water quality protection is a zoning issue and should be in the ordinance.

Representative Lente asked why there had been no outreach to the Pueblos, Navajo Nation or the towns and cities within the County.

As it stands now, the draft ordinance does not deal with any environmental, health or safety issues. It is just a zoning document. While the State and Federal governments do have regulations in place to protect water quality, air quality, manage disposal of waste and other technical issues, it is not clear that these entities require extensive prior information on how drilling would or could affect these resources and most of the enforcement is left up to the oil and gas companies.

ES-CA continues to insist that the ordinance be broadened to encompass regulations pertaining to environmental, health and safety issues and that the County assume a role in the enforcement of the regulations.

Everyone is encouraged to attend both the P&Z meetings and the Commission meetings and to become involved in this issue.

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