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Signpost welcomes letters of all opinions. Letters are subject to editing for length, clarity, libel, and other considerations. Anonymous pen name letters will not be published. Attach your name and contact information. Send to: Signpost, P. O. Box 889, Placitas, NM, 87043 or email@sandovalsignpost.com.


re: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners

Following is a transcript of Bob Wessely’s document which he read at Sandoval County’s Planning and Zoning meeting in December to address concerns about the safety of potential oil and gas exploration in Sandoval County.

Introduction: Permitting for oil and gas is not routine. While yielding some benefits, there are also possible downsides. Oil and gas is a complex, risky, heavy industry that should be treated with care. My bottom line tonight is that Sandoval County is not nearly prepared at this point to consider oil and gas permitting applications. The County should impose a moratorium on accepting applications while it develops a County-appropriate oil and gas section for its zoning ordinance. Let me identify just a few of the issues:

Precedent: One exploratory well is not a big deal, if it proves to be dry. However, if the exploratory well turns out to reveal oil or gas product, it will be a huge deal. This will be the first of many such permit applications, by this and other oil and gas companies—possibly hundreds, or even thousands. And in the current lousy oil market, SandRidge says it wants to bet several million dollars on finding product.

Figure 1 is an aerial view, ten miles across, near Navajo Lake. Each white spot is an oil-and-gas industrial site, mostly well pads.

Since the County doesn’t have oil and gas zoning or other requirements in place, County staff has said it will use ZNCH-15-003’s industry-defined application package as a model of what the County will require in future applications. That package leaves numerous important questions unanswered. If you approve this application, even with conditions, you will be setting a precedent of ad hoc decision-making for which you should be appropriately cautious.

State Regulation: For the County to depend on State regulation is insufficient. Please understand that the State’s regulations focus mostly on below ground or down-hole behavior, leaving regulation, if any, of possible surface behavior and impacts to local governments. And at that, State enforcement is minimal. The State’s Oil Conservation Division has said they have about ten inspectors to cover one hundred thousand wells, statewide. The Department of Transportation has five inspectors for some 23,000 miles of pipelines.

Some Data: Figure 2 shows a collection of some six hundred peer-reviewed studies, analyses, reports, and articles on oil and gas issues. They are available in the public record. Some key issues that the reports identify include:

  • Increasing number of scientific studies show that proximity to wells increases likelihood of well water contamination and incidence of premature births.
  • Northwest and southeast counties have the highest asthma rates in New Mexico.
  • Over two thousand heavy truck trips are needed during development of each well.
  • Each hydraulic fracturing event (often several per well) requires four-to-ten million gallons of water—only thirty-to-fifty percent of which is recovered,the rest is lost from the hydrologic cycle.
  • Earthquake frequency and intensity increases around some drilling fields.
  • The count of self-reported spills in New Mexico climbed to over one thousand during 2014.

Your role: If oil or gas is found, the industry will impose significant changes on the County. I believe your role tonight should be to ensure that the County gets adequately prepared for the possible onslaught.

The County should develop an ordinance that is appropriate for the Sandoval County. A temporary moratorium while ordinance development is making progress has been shown to be quite legal, for up to several years in jurisdictions across the State.

If you don’t choose to step back and prepare the County, you should ensure this application, and the precedent you set for future industry Special Use applications, let you clearly understand what financial costs will (or will not) be imposed on the County, and what environmental costs will (or will not) be imposed on the citizenry.

Specific questions: Please consider the following example questions, whose answers I did not find or were not clear in the posted application package, and whose answers will be even more important in future applications:

  • Heavy trucking requires additional road maintenance and additional access roads. Who pays for the road work?
  • Who pays for the additional specialized equipment and trained personnel needed for well fires?
  • Who pays for additional County services such as law enforcement and drug treatment?
  • Measuring adjacent surface and groundwater quality before and after drilling—who pays for it? And are there water quality degradation limits?
  • Gaseous emissions to the atmosphere—Are there limits? How is it monitored?
  • Noise, light, and dust pollution—are there constraints for future wells near populated areas?
  • Temporary housing for the imported oil field workers—are constraints included in the permit?
  • Will the permit allow (or disallow) hydraulic fracturing? If allowed, with what substances? How disposed?
  • Setbacks of industrial oil and gas facilities from property lines and sensitive locations such as acequias, water wells, homes, and schools—are they the same as house and garage setbacks?
  • How does product get from the site to market? How much trucking traffic will be necessary?
  • Where can pipelines be laid? Do neighboring land owners have any choice?
  • Are there any constraints on waste storage (hazardous and non-hazardous)?
  • Are there site remediation requirements? Who pays to monitor abandoned wells for leaks?
  • Are the promises in the application package and presentations enforceable?
  • What ongoing site inspections will there be? By whom? Who pays for the inspectors?
  • What are the consequences of failure to adhere to the permit requirements?

Existing Resources: If the County chooses to develop an ordinance, it does not have to start from scratch. There are resources available. The extensive research materials as shown in Figure 2 can be used and extended as needed to become more current. Several Counties (for example Santa Fe, Rio Arriba, and San Miguel) have extensive, well-researched, and legally defensible regulatory ordinances in place that could be paraphrased, and strengthened or weakened as appropriate for Sandoval. You could invite the County Attorney from one of those counties to discuss the issues with you. Figure 3 contains an overview of the existing Santa Fe and San Miguel County ordinances. The process of tuning an existing ordinance for Sandoval County (or writing anew) fundamentally needs to address two politically charged questions:

  • To what extent does Sandoval County want the taxpayers to subsidize the industry?
  • To what extent does Sandoval County want to protect against environmental impacts?

In Summary: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, local level permitting of oil and gas should be a careful process. You will need answers to the above and probably lots of other questions. You will be taking action tonight that can have major consequences for the future. I suggest that you do the following:

  • Disapprove or table the application ZNCH-15-003.
  • Recommend that the County Commission impose a temporary moratorium on oil and gas permitting (as other counties have done).
  • Recommend that the County develop a County-appropriate zoning ordinance during the moratorium period.

Thank you. If allowable, I can stand for questions.

—Bob Wessely, Placitas


re: A service dog’s worst nightmare

On December 22, I stepped out of my truck at the Placitas Post Office and unloaded my service dog to accompany me. The very moment her feet hit the pavement she began screaming and something was pulling her under the truck. I looked under and was horrified to see two large mixed power breed dogs dragging her by her service vest. I was able to kick away the brown dog that had her pinned by the back of her service vest.  I then pulled the white dog that was mauling her out from under the truck. After a very violent struggle, the white dog let go of her vest, bit my left forearm and then grabbed my service dog’s right front leg, bit into it and began twisting and trying to rip it off. At this point I was desperate, so I grabbed the white dog by the back of its loose fitting collar and twisted it as tight as I could to cut off the attacking dog’s airway. Finally, its mouth opened and it let go of my service dog’s leg. I pushed my dog back into my truck while holding onto her attacker with my other hand. Luckily, witnesses ran to our aid. A woman, whose name I can’t remember, kept a bad situation from getting worse because while I struggled with the white dog, she kept the brown one at bay. Two other folks, Rick Davis and his wife, came to our aid and held the white dog for awhile until the dog became aggressive toward him forcing him to let go. Both attacking dogs then returned through the open front gate at their not-so-abandoned Placitas Mini-Mart home. I ran into the Post Office and asked someone to call the police. The postal people were very helpful and I want to thank everyone who stepped in to help us.

Sandoval County Animal Control Officer Larry Tafoya was first responder, followed by Officer Ron Hunt. I told the officers that there are laws protecting service dogs and that I wanted the responsible parties to be prosecuted to the extent of the law. A criminal complaint is being filed with the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Department, and I am currently looking for legal representation so that I can do everything in my power to prevent this type of vicious attack from happening to another disabled person and their service dog. If anyone reading this can help my dog and I find legal remedies/representation for our situation, it would be so greatly appreciated.

My service dog was taken to a nearby animal hospital and was treated for her physical injuries. Her physical injuries will heal, but due to the viciousness of this attack, she may or may not recover her ability to work in public. Only time and service dog temperament screening will tell. As for me, I was already severely PTSD due to a brutal attack years ago, but this nightmare has brought it all back. If you can’t feel safe getting out of your car in broad daylight on Federal property to pick up your mail, where can you feel safe? Without my service dog’s ability to perform her trained tasks in public for me, I lose my freedom to be in public as well. It took years and thousands of dollars for my service dog’s specialized training. She is a PTSD/Seizure/Mobility Service Dog, and in the last few years has become a Public Access Service Dog Instructor helping the disabled to train through example. 

Come on people—you need to be responsible for your pets. Keep them  properly contained on your property, or ON LEASH per the law! Don’t let your dogs run off leash in parks—no dogs off leash once you leave your private property and go into the public. It doesn’t matter how big or small, young or old, how friendly, how well-trained or what breed your dog is, be responsible and keep them securely contained or on leash. No loose dogs, No exceptions!!! We can all help to make this a safer community. Call Animal Control if you see a loose dog or if you see dogs that can get out of their yards at will and are not properly contained.

—Angel Rose and “Isabeau Addison” (service dog), Placitas

 
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