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Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association (ES-CA) report

~Chris Daul

New District 1 County Commissioner James Holden-Rhodes attended the last ES-CA Board meeting and spoke to the Board and residents. He is scheduled to speak at the ES-CA Annual Meeting (on September 23).

ES-CA is continuing to develop better working relationships with all our county officials—elected and appointed—as well as with key state and federal officials. While we may not always support the votes and decisions of these officials, expanding these lines of communication help Placitans to put their positions on issues in front of these lawmakers.

ES-CA supports the combined efforts of many groups in opposing a weak oil-and-gas-drilling ordinance. Protecting the drinking water supply of all New Mexicans should be the priority of our elected officials. While economic development is important, without potable water, there can be no development of any kind.

Many suggestions have been put forth that would strengthen the proposed ordinance. ES-CA will continue to utilize its relationships with our elected officials to make sure that they are aware of citizens’ concerns. Please check the ES-CA website forum for articles and documents concerning this issue (

ES-CA and the Las Placitas Association (LPA) continue to monitor the BLM in relation to the pending release of the Resource Management Plan, which will list the potential uses and permitted activities on the Buffalo Tract of the BLM. This land is adjacent to Placitas to the north. Our main concern is that sand and gravel mining could be designated as a potential use.

ES-CA and LPA expect to receive information about the release of the plan. Both organizations are prepared to inform residents of the plan’s contents and will coordinate a response if necessary. BLM has indicated to us that they are aware of the desires of residents (including Algodones, Bernalillo, the Pueblos, and others) for designating this area as recreational land.

In addition, the ES-CA Land Use Protection Trust (LPT) is working to ensure open and effective lines of communication with Vulcan, now that the litigation is settled. This will assist members of the community who will be most affected by the planned removal of the northeast area ridgeline during the final phases of that mining activity.

The next ES-CA Board meeting is scheduled for October 3, beginning at 6:30 p.m., at the Placitas Fire Station on Route 165. All are welcome to attend.

re: Drilling—health, public safety, environmental protections

On the evening of September 21, we were three of the public who filled the Sandoval County Commission Chamber to its capacity of 100+ along with another seventy people who overflowed into a second floor room with live screening. All were present to take part in voicing non-partisan concerns about the lack of health, safety, and environmental protections in the “Stoddard Oil and Gas Ordinance.” Despite vast and vocal citizen opposition, this legislation was passed to be “published and posted” and could become law in the next few weeks. 

Most important is that oil and gas companies will be granted a “permissive use” permit, which means no public hearing or input. Permits can be granted within ten days after a simple check list is deemed complete. Drilling will be allowed any time of day or night.

It was the public concern and research which kept the “bad actor” SandRidge from drilling in Rio Rancho Estates. Under permissive use, this right will be removed. 

At the Thursday meeting, the only vocal supporters of the Stoddard ordinance were four out of the five Commissioners, the director of Planning and Zoning, representatives of Thrust Energy, NM Oil and Gas Association, the state chamber of the Association of Commerce and Industry, a couple of economic development reps and a third year law student—approximately ten people.

The memo submitted by Planning and Zoning where valid changes based on the Citizen Ordinance was never considered.

Commissioners and the Industry repeatedly stated that the Citizens draft ordinance was “Anti- Oil and Gas development” and insisted that proposed changes and regulations were prohibitively restrictive. In truth, the Citizens draft is less restrictive than the previous drafts written by the County or the Jicarilla Apache ordinance where much drilling is taking place.

The industry and County staff insist that protective regulations are unnecessary; that there has been no historical evidence of water contamination. But since the State Oil Conservation Division neither requires nor does groundwater monitoring, it is not possible to really know if there has been aquifer pollution. There are almost eight hundred self-reported spills in OCD records, even though the industry disputes that any came from drilling or fracking.

The industry claims that water-monitoring costs are prohibitive and yet expert Bob Wessley says monitoring costs are trivial (at most a few thousand dollars and mostly for initial drilling).

During the past few months, Planning and Zoning relied on testimony from the oil and gas industry and related experts. Citizens have presented a wealth of documentation from independent experts as well as government research, which prove health hazards and environmental risks exist. And yet, the majority of Commissioners prefer to frame the issue as “unnecessary regulations destroy economic development.”

Bob Wessley advises that the industry would surely bring the same number of jobs and same pay under either Citizens or Stoddard ordinances, since decisions to drill are based on where there is product.

This should never be an us or them issue! We demand that the Commissioners place health, public safety, our beloved environment at the forefront of this risky development so near to our homes.

—Laura Robbins, Evey Jones, Daisy Kates, Placitas

re: Fracking and drilling

The oil and gas companies are attempting to ram laws down our throats to allow fracking and drilling in Sandoval County. It is obvious that many of the county commissioners have some kind of under-the-table deal going with the powerful Oil and Gas political machine. THE PEOPLE OF SANDOVAL COUNTY NOT ONLY DO NOT WANT FRACKING AND DRILLING, but we are scared to death about the results of such things in our own backyards. There is no justifiable reason to do this when most concerned citizens want renewable energy pushed. We have tons of sunshine and wind in this state—in this county! Let's harness that for cleaner living and economic growth.

—Carolyn O'Mara, Corrales

re: No fracking in Rio Rancho

The people do not want our land and water sold out for fracking near Rio Rancho—or any urban development for that matter. Why are we electing officials so quick to sell off our land and water for their interests? Why are they continuing on with the death train of fossil fuel development when the gold mines of solar and wind, geothermal, and more are at our finger tips? Why are we not investing in a clean energy future now? The health effects of fracking have been widely documented. Air and water pollution. Oils spills. Water sources destroyed. The Four Corners region lives enshrouded in a methane cloud the size of Delaware from off- gassing by the fracking industry.

Water is more precious than oil and gas. We cannot drink oil. Our high desert and fragile watershed is the beleaguered, polluted, over used Rio Grande/Chama and dwindling aquifer. It will not recover from the millions of gallons used to purify the deadly cocktail of chemicals used for fracking. If we must be sold out for the commissioner’s moneyed interests, let it be for something that will not kill our water and health. Corrupt commissioners follow the money. Commissioners with integrity listen to the people's heart.

Recently when I visited the Sandoval County Courthouse, I sat in silence observing the beautiful symbols and inscriptions that bind that room to New Mexico's culture of cherishing and caring for the land, water and her communities. We have a cloud of witnesses—children and creaturely communities surrounding us. They are looking at us with eyes of the future, asking us what we will do now to preserve their lives.

—Anita Amstutz, Albuquerque

re: Oil and gas drilling endangers Sandoval County residents and the environment

Recently the Sandoval County Planning and Zoning Commission voted to recommend an oil and gas ordinance that will endanger the drinking water and quality of life for families in Rio Rancho, Albuquerque, and the surrounding area.

The ordinance allows any oil or gas company to drill without protecting our water resources because there will be no baseline groundwater testing or post-drilling monitoring. If there is an accident, there is no recourse for our drinking water and ultimately our health.

The ordinance does not follow the Sandoval County Comprehensive Plan approved by the Board of County Commissioners on February 2013. Policy A clearly states that "the needs and desires of the people" will be taken into account. Sandoval County had several meetings last year where hundreds of Sandoval County citizens overwhelmingly expressed their concerns about drilling for oil. Yet, in spite of (or because of?) “the people’s" anxiety and consternation, the new ordinance would bypass citizens’ input.

Policy B refers to "retain(ing) a prevailing rural residential character while promoting an orderly development of business and industry in appropriate locations." Further, "Development decisions shall be based on impact on surrounding land uses, particularly in residential and agricultural areas, air and water quality considerations, effect on public health and safety, and the availability of public services and adequate infrastructure... Careful analysis of physical conditions such as soil capabilities, drainage patterns, and the like shall be conducted to determine areas most suitable for development or environmental conditions." And, "Density controls shall be instituted to provide adequate area for on-site liquid waste disposal to occur with a minimum negative impact on ground water supplies."

Policy C seeks to "...protect its natural resources and environmentally critical areas from any destructive effects of development." Specifically, "...the Rio Grande and Jemez River;" Preservation of air quality”—we do not see this addressed in the proposed ordinance. There are no contingencies to monitor the compliance of the oil/gas companies and we cannot depend on OCD to protect us; nor is there adequate compensation when effected parties are negatively impacted. There is little or no returning from a contaminated water source.

Finally, just last June, New Mexico’s State Land Commissioner, Aubrey Dunn, announced that he will halt oil and gas related well easements from the Ogallala aquifer in the southeastern part of the state, as the water is a depleting resource. In New Mexico, water is especially precious, and to use huge amounts of our fresh water drinking reserves for oil and well production will cause depletion of a finite resource.

While we can appreciate the need to support Sandoval County's economic base, to do so at the cost of long-term and possibly permanent damage to our agricultural land, water, and air seems not only short-sighted, but dangerous. The large amount of oil and gas revenue will be quickly forgotten after the first accident that plummets property values, makes land unusable, and water undrinkable. Catastrophic drilling accidents may not have happened yet, but it is simply a matter of time before they do. We already have the Kirkland AFB toxic fuel spill encroaching the Albuquerque aquifer. We don’t need to deal with yet another toxic accident.

Placing a ban on gas drilling in Sandoval County is crucial. Even "exploratory" drilling is a de facto agreement with a drilling company to drill and frack if they find what they seek. Once the company begins the process, state Supreme Courts have ruled that the company's investment in exploration gives them the right to continue drilling, over the County's right to stop them.

The NM Tech Geological/Hydrogeologic study will be submitted in 2018 (which the County requested), but rather than waiting for the results, the County seems to be charging ahead heedless the many consequences. Given the increasing number of countries (Australia, Germany, Netherlands, Bulgaria, France, Scotland and 4 out of the 10 provinces of Canada), states (New York, Vermont, Maryland and local municipalities in Pennsylvania), plus local counties in the USA all either banning or declaring moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing, we would need a total ban on the practice. We all have concerns about the ability of OCD to adequately monitor whatever is approved, leaving communities and lands at higher risk. Oil and gas exploration and acquisition is a short-sighted initiative giving short-term economic benefits and a high probability (based on real scientific data) of land and water contamination, long-term community economic hardships, as well as health hazards to humans, livestock, and wildlife. Oil and gas drilling is not worth the risks.

—Sandra Farley

re: Eliminating the teaching of climate change and evolution in New Mexico schools?

I am writing as a concerned citizen about the September 16 announcement in the Albuquerque Journal that the State Department of Education would like to eliminate climate change and evolution from the proposed state science standards.

Certainly in light of Harvey, Irma, and now Maria, our climate is changing. It is surprising that the New Mexico Deptartment of Education would see fit to go so firmly against the facts as we live them from day to day.

Since Governor Martinez has been in office, the Deptartment of Education has been run by people with no education credentials. It makes one wonder: is the governor concerned about the future of New Mexico children and the quality of their education? Or is she possibly posturing for her Tea Party friends around the nation, and in high places, and thinking of being in those high places herself one day? There is no doubt that some people in power would like to see us divided and fighting each other in culture wars instead of working together to solve the pressing and urgent problems resulting from a speeded-up climate change. The governor seems to be on board with that particular alarming agenda.

—F. Cronshaw, Tijeras

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