Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988

Dwight Patterson of Las Placitas Association (left) and Sandoval County Commissioner James Dominguez lead the discussion on installing monitoring wells along petroleum pipelines in Placitas.

LPA plans to monitor pipelines

—Ty Belknap

At a public meeting held on August 12, Las Placitas Association (LPA) board member Dwight Patterson outlined his plan to monitor pipeline corridors in the Placitas area. The groundbreaking plan proposes the installation of monitoring wells every quarter mile along the 15 miles of pipeline corridor.

Despite a great deal of scrutiny over the past twenty years by local groups such as Citizens for Safe Pipelines, Las Placitas Association, and Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association—and despite dozens of Signpost articles on the subject—the pipelines continue to pose a growing threat to the safety of the community.

The pipeline easement flows right through the Las Huertas creek bed. Storm events periodically roll boulders, trees, and sediment that expose these pipelines to the elements. These lines carry tremendous quantities of liquid natural gas, carbon dioxide, jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

The easement splits to the south, following the old Tex/New Mex Pipeline southeast past the Placitas Community Center, through the Village of Placitas (within five hundred feet of Placitas Elementary School), across the Sandias, and down to southern New Mexico.

The sixty-year-old pipeline, out of service for many years, was considered abandoned until, against strong local opposition, the Bureau of Land Management performed the environmental assessments required for Western Refining to put the line back in service. According to Gary Hansen, spokesman for Western Refining, the pipeline began flowing crude oil from the Four Corners area to El Paso in May, 2015, at rates up to 17,000 barrels per day (BPD). The line has a maximum capacity of 75,000 BPD, but Hansen said that oil production would probably not exceed 35,000 BPD.

Pipeline safety advocates have been frustrated trying to gain assurance from operators that these pipelines are safe, and they are unconvinced that federal and state regulators provide adequate protection. When pipelines rupture, people are killed, property is destroyed, and the environment can be seriously affected. Petroleum products could seriously impact the aquifer that provides water to the entire region.

In 2012, the Pipeline Safety Trust ranked the New Mexico Pipeline Safety Bureau (part of the Public Regulatory Commission) 27th in the nation in transparent oversight. By 2014, the Bureau had dropped to 39th, providing no pipeline maps or public data on incidents, enforcement, or inspections.

Patterson has operated Xitech Instruments Inc. in Placitas for the past 27 years. His company specializes in environmental engineering, producing pumping systems to clean up oil spills, gas stations, and pipelines. Becoming increasingly alarmed by the threat posed by area pipelines, he recently added his expertise to the ongoing LPA efforts to address the issue.

He came up with a relatively simple and inexpensive plan for independent local monitoring of the pipeline easements, borrowing technology that has been required for underground gas station tanks for 25 years. Sensors installed in slotted twenty foot PVC pipe sunk every quarter mile along the pipeline corridors could potentially detect minor leaks before catastrophic leaks occur. Patterson estimates the cost of installation of 48 monitoring wells at $137,000. He said that Senator John Sapien and Representative Jim Smith had expressed willingness to seek funding from the next state legislative session. The cost of monitoring would be about $23,000 dollars annually.

County Commissioner James Dominguez participated in the LPA meeting. He told the Signpost later that he was trying to get in touch with some of the pipeline companies to set up more public meetings and discuss the use of pipeline easement for monitoring. He also said that he had discussed funding and managing the project with County Manager Phil Rios.

Private property owners are asked to contact LPA in regards to providing land for the project. For more information, email

Volunteers needed for watershed project

—Lynn Montgomery, Chair, Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District

The Albuquerque Open Space Division (OSD) has recently conducted watershed restoration and protection workshops on the Placitas Open Space (POS), which it owns and controls. Jim Brooks of Soilutions, Inc., a composting and landscaping business that utilizes permaculture philosophy to do innovative landscaping projects, was retained to conduct them. Jim and others have developed some very exciting methods that stabilize the soil, retain moisture, control flooding and pollution, enable vegetation to better establish itself and build soil fertility.

Some of us from the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District attended Jim’s workshops and were very impressed. We had an opportunity to apply for a small grant from the NM Soil and Water Conservation Commission, which oversees all 47 SWCDs in the state. Our proposed pilot project on the POS utilizing permaculture methods was funded. It’s not much money, and we are only treating two acres, but this is actually a research project to test these methods and their application in this location, using local volunteers. All work will be done by hand. Some residents have already volunteered, but we need a few more. If you wish to learn more about our land and its ecosystems, consider joining us in this endeavor.

Although the trail system on the POS has been maintained and much improved, not much else has been done recently to address the condition of the land, flora, and wildlife. Creek restoration projects have been done in the past, but large floods have damaged or even obliterated many of them. Monitoring and maintenance of restoration projects is important over time. The recent drought has put pressure on flora and wildlife diversity and allowed the soil to be exposed, resulting in increased erosion. Historic and modern grazing by livestock have contributed to land degradation in the area. Local land managers have worked diligently to mitigate this problem over time. The POS has been completely fenced off from any livestock grazing in the area for over a year, and now is the time to increase efforts to mitigate erosion and flooding and continue the legacy of past restoration projects. Also, as forage conditions improve in the area, we can expect to see more wildlife again using this corridor from the foothills to the Rio Grande.

In order to address the erosion, we will be finding contours, cutting berms along them, creating what are called “sponge pockets” within these berms where a long narrow shovel is cast into the ground as far as possible, pushed forward to create a space for a vertical tuft of straw to be inserted, then the shovel is pulled out. If conditions look good, some native grass seed is sown in the pocket. Then some lower boughs are cut from juniper trees and woven over the berm. The trick is to read the land for best placement of the berms. There are thousands of head cuts on the POS, which are the beginnings of a rill or arroyo that can be halted with these berms. Precipitation soaks into the sponge pockets and the berms spread it out so it can better percolate into the soil. This will enhance the recovery of native vegetation and, thus, wildlife.

Coronado SWCD runs on volunteer energy and so will this project. We hope to form a team of about a dozen folks who care about our local environment and can give a few hours a month from September through May to implement this method. We will be documenting everything with photographs and maps. We will be constantly testing the soil moisture, keeping track of the weather, and looking out for new things that might work. This initial team will be trained through workshops with specialists. There’s no guarantee of success, but, if successful, this will provide a good example of how to save our local lands.

To volunteer, call 867-2853 or visit

Farm Bill Local Work Group meeting alert

The Natural Resources and Conservation Service (NRCS) and Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District (CSWCD) are announcing a Farm Bill Local Work Group meeting to be held on September 16, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., in the conference room of the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District Office, located at 1500 Idalia Building C, Bernalillo.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service administers several programs that assist farmers and ranchers with improving and maintaining the health of natural resources in the area. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is one program that was established under the 1996 Farm Bill. Through EQIP, farmers and ranchers may receive financial and technical help to install or implement structural and management conservation practices on eligible agricultural land.

The Local Work Group meeting is to assist NRCS and Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) to prepare for the Fiscal Year 2016 EQIP program. EQIP funds will be established for each NRCS Field Office that serves one or more Soil and Water Conservation Districts. Input is needed from the Local Work Group to help determine local resource concerns so the District Conservationist and the SWCD manager can develop a community based proposed program for implementation. Once the program is established, it will be submitted to the State Conservationist for review and approval. Upon approval, program determinations for 2016 will be posted on the New Mexico NRCS website:

If you have any questions regarding the Local Work Group meeting, call 865-4643, Ext. 3. All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

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