After multiple lengthy meetings and hundreds of debates and public comments, the Sandoval County Commission finally voted last week to kill the dreaded Stoddard/Heil oil & gas ordinance that would have given a blank check to the drilling industry. With complete disregard for a $62,000 “review” tasked to New Mexico Tech, Chairman Chapman insisted that this poorly written ordinance was better than no ordinance at all. His was the only yes vote and the ordinances failed 4-1.
The four other commissioners were not in agreement. Commissioner Eichwald had always been opposed to the ordinance. Citizen input on the dangers of living near drilling rigs, threats to groundwater, damage to infrastructure, inadequate emergency services and a host of other issues were brought before the commission at every meeting. The biggest issue was and still is the total disregard for the sovereign nations that have been residents of Sandoval County from time immemorial. Native governments were not included in the drafting or consideration of any version of the ordinance. Commissioner Chapman did meet with the Governors of some of the Pueblos in a social setting and said he really enjoyed it and they should do it at least twice a year. This is hardly government to government interaction. Pueblo Governors came to the meeting and expressed their grave concerns on multiple occasions.
Sandoval County is not alone in dealing with fossil fuel exploration. Communities all across the country are faced with protecting their homes, property values, public health and failing infrastructure. Here in the desert Southwest, we are protecting our water. Without clean fresh water, we will have no jobs to offer. There will be slim possibilities for economic development or job opportunities. No one will want to come here to live among drilling rigs. And all residents agree that all residents have all of the protections and the rural areas should never be sacrificed for the benefit of big business. Sandoval County branding would be hard pressed to find a beautiful image to represent communities that have been raped by the boom and bust activities of drilling operations as has happened in too many other places in the US.
After many hours or conversation, phone calls, emails, testimony, protests and rallies, the Stoddard/Hail ordinance is gone and the issue will be sent back to Planning & Zoning. This whole ordeal is an example of citizen action demanding that elected officials act in the best interest of their constituents.