Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988

Zone changes prompt fracking concerns

—Bill Diven

As Sandoval County moves toward amending its zoning ordinance to address utility projects, the informal discussion quickly moves into, what could be labeled fear of fracking.

Oil and gas production are “the elephant in the room,” Pat Vester, vice chair of the county Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission, said during a meeting of the panel in late March.

Area residents, particularly members of the Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association, turned out in force that evening, ready to discuss property rights and protections amid concerns that the boom in fracking may spread into more populated areas of the county without public notice or debate.

Fracking—short for hydraulic fracturing—injects a high-pressure mix of water, chemicals, and sand into wells to crack open shale layers releasing oil and gas. The process has opened new fields and revived places thought to be uneconomical and led to a dramatic increase in national oil and natural gas production in the last several years.

Controversy surrounds the process, however, with environmental issues ranging from groundwater pollution and small earthquakes to how to handle “produced water”—the chemical-laden liquid brought to the surface during production.

The brewing debate over fracking at the P&Z meeting stalled prematurely since the agenda item was only the county planning staff asking for direction on rewriting sections of the zoning ordinance. Those sections covered:

  • Permissive uses—small utility projects like water, sewer, and power lines approved administratively without public notice. For discussion, the P&Z staff chose projects covering two acres or less.
  • Conditional uses—larger neighborhood projects, water tanks, or storage yards for example, covering two-to-twenty acres that would require a hearing and approval by the P&Z Commission.
  • Special uses—bigger, regional projects, including energy production and distribution. The P&Z Commission only holds a hearing and makes a recommendation with the county commission making the decision after a second hearing.

“We understand there needs to be a lot more detail in this,” Planning Director Mike Springfield said. “We’re here trying to give the public, the utilities, and the municipalities rules before an emergency hits the county.”

However, Springfield’s comment that an exploratory oil or gas well could become a permissive use “because it’s a quick in and out” drew a negative reaction from much of the audience. An actual production well would still require hearings before the P&Z and county commissions, he added.

Under the current ordinance, exploratory wells are a conditional use.

P&Z commissioners weighed in on more controls for energy development, although not to the point of instigating lawsuits as happened in Mora County after it approved an outright ban on fracking. “For me, drilling for water isn’t the same as drilling for gas and oil,” Vester said. “I’m personally not comfortable lumping all this stuff together.”

New Mexico ranks sixth in the nation in oil production and seventh in natural gas, most of which comes from the San Juan Basin in the Four Corners and the Permian Basin in the Southeast. Western Sandoval County falls within the San Juan Basin, ranking the county as No. 7 in oil and gas, with about 0.002 percent of the state total, according the state Oil Conservation Division.

“Since the 1940s there has been something like 1,300 oil and gas wells in Sandoval County,” State Geologist Greer Price told the Signpost. “That’s not a huge number and includes the Lybrook Field that was in production from 1962 to 1999.”

Oil and gas production in New Mexico peaked in the 1980s and has almost returned to that level due mostly to fracking in the Southeast, he added.

For now, Placitas, Bernalillo, and Rio Rancho, all located within the Albuquerque Basin, seem off the radar of energy companies and wildcat drillers, although deep exploratory wells over the last sixty years have revealed a potential for natural gas. Instead, companies are looking in other places—the Raton and Las Vegas basins, for example—where tapping desirable shale layers would be more economical, according to Ron Broadhead, principal senior petroleum geologist with the state Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources.

“Given the deep nature and therefore high costs of drilling and the current low prices of natural gas in the U. S., the Albuquerque Basin is unlikely to see exploratory interest in the near and possibly intermediate future as drilling exploratory wells, each with remote chances of success, will not be likely,” Broadhead said in an email response to questions from the Signpost. Any exploratory drilling in northeast Sandoval County likely would be for geothermal resources, he added.

Springfield told P&Z commissioners that the earliest he’d be back to discuss possible zoning amendments would be the meeting scheduled for May 22.

Jemez black-on-white pottery

Jemez black-on-white and ceramic revival in the American Southwest

—Matthew J. Barbour, Jemez Historic Site

Jemez black-on-white is the traditional pottery of the Hemish, or Jemez People. The pottery is tempered with volcanic tuff, slipped with a white clay, painted with a carbon (vegetable) paint, and fired in a reduction (oxygen free) atmosphere. It is found throughout the Jemez Mountains and surrounding areas, including the Rio Puerco, Dinetah, and Northern Rio Grande River Valley. Archaeologists typically date this pottery type between AD 1350 and 1700. However, that isn’t really the case. In the modern world, a more accurate date range for Jemez black-on-white would be AD 1350 -1700 and AD 2000 to present.

Jemez Black-on-white is part of a ceramic revival movement that has been going on the American Southwest since the early twentieth century. It began with Nampeyo, a Hopi-Tewa potter who visited the excavations at Sikyatki in 1895 and began to copy the designs she saw. Later famed potter, Maria Martinez of San Ildefonso re-popularized the polished blackware, known to archaeologists as Kapo Black.

Interestingly, not all ceramic revivals have been initiated by the direct descendants of the people of who once produced the wares. Ramos Polychrome, a pottery type associated with the Native Americans of Paquime, was brought back to life by the potters of the Mexican village of Mata Ortiz. They rediscovered the process for producing Ramos Polychrome as a means to capitalize on the tourist trade. The pottery, known today as Mata Ortiz Pottery, has evolved substantially from replica into its own tradition, sought by collectors throughout the world.

The newest member to these rediscovered Native American Pottery Traditions is Jemez black-on-white. About a decade ago, this ancestral pottery of the Hemish people was rediscovered by Joshua Madalena, present-day Governor of Jemez Pueblo, while he was working as the Manager of Jemez State Monument.

Jemez Historic Site preserves the ruins of the Jemez Village of Giusewa. It is one of 34 large settlements in the Jemez Mountains. Giusewa is one of the sites where Jemez black-on-white was fabricated, prior to its abandonment in 1680.

Rediscovering the process by which Jemez black-on-white was made proved quite difficult. The pottery tradition had been lost for three centuries. While working in archaeology in the early 1990s, Joshua Madalena became intimately familiar with the pottery. Through a laborious process of trial and error, he was able to successfully replicate his ancestors’ work.

Now, Joshua Madalena is being honored for his perseverance and success in a new exhibit called “Ceramic Revivals” at the Amerind Foundation just east of Tucson, Arizona. This exhibit celebrates traditional Pueblo Art and its rightful place in the modern world. Jemez black-on-white’s inclusion in this display should be celebrated, as it acknowledges both the hard work of Joshua Madalena and the artistic expression of all Jemez Potters.

Can’t get out to Tucson to see the exhibit? Jemez Historic Site has you covered with examples of both prehistoric and modern Jemez black-on-white on display within our visitor center. Jemez Historic Site is located at 18160 Highway 4 in Jemez Springs and is open five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admittance is three dollars per adult; there is never a charge for children. Jemez Historic Site is free to New Mexico seniors on Wednesday and all New Mexico residents on Sunday. For more information, call 575-829-3530 or go to

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