What You Need to Know About Sandoval County’s Oil and Gas Ordinance  

What You Need to Know About Sandoval County’s Oil and Gas Ordinance  

#Common Ground Rising/

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For the past 18 months, Sandoval County Commission has been undergoing a process of formulating its oil and gas ordinance. The ordinance was initially pursued in November 2015 when SandRidge Energy Inc., an Oklahoma-based oil and gas company, applied for a special-use permit. Since then, citizens’ groups have organized to give formal comment, input and reports for inclusion in the ordinance to ensure protections from extractive industry impacts–including all surface impacts. 


Ordinance Divides Sandoval County into 2 Regions

  • The current draft divides the county into a Northwest and Southeast region, each with different use protections (4.7 in the draft ordinance).[1]
  • The ordinance establishes energy development zones that do not provide adequate community protections.

Northwest Sandoval County 

Sandoval County has 600 hundred-fracked wells mostly concentrated in the northwest region, also known as the Checkerboard area and part of Greater Chaco. The Checkerboard area covers multiple jurisdictions of land ownership that includes public, private, state, Indian allotments, and Tribal trust lands.

  • Sandoval County ignores oil and gas impacts affecting residents living in the Checkerboard region–some areas are under the County’s jurisdiction.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/wildearth_guardians/27670305054/in/album-72157668145615084/ Photo Credit: Kendra Pinto

Nageezi (18mi. north of Sandoval County)

July 11, 2016 – Nageezi, NM

36 storage tanks exploded at a newly developed fracking site operated by WPX Energy. Investigations revealed that WPX used aluminum fittings instead of steel on many of its connectors. One or more shortly gave way leaking gas, which ignited. The fire burned for 5-days. WPX claimed the plume of emissions dissipated quickly. Former WPX vice president Ken McQueen now serves as cabinet secretary of NM Energy, Minerals and Natural Resource Department (NMEMNRD).

2.)   Southeast Sandoval County

The southeast region of the county is more heavily populated than the northwest.

  • Communities in the northwest are disproportionately impacted by oil and gas extraction. The County largely ignores what these communities experience.
  • The County practices environmental racism and has little regard for social justice.

In a Q&A session at the May 12th meeting, public comments were given and ignored. No attempt was made to modify the draft ordinance before submission to the Planning and Zoning Commission. Division of the County is not needed or wanted. This industry divides communities, families and poses significant health and safety risks.

The County has NO Emergency Response Plan

  • In September 2016, an IPRA (Inspection of Public Records Act) was submitted requesting for the oil and gas company’s Emergency Response Plan that was supposed to be filed with the County.
  • The County refused citing national security reasons. The County is supposed to have a emergency response plan in place. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) found that Sandoval County was in Violation of IPRA. We are filing a lawsuit for that document.
  • Planning and Zoning Director, Michael Springfield, admitted the County needs time to draft an emergency response plan. [2]

Where We Are Now – May 12th, Meeting

On May 12, 2017 the County released the final Draft Copy of its 32-page “Dead Ordinance”. This picture shows noticeable size and content differences on oil and gas ordinances from San Miguel (200 pages) and Santa Fe (175 pages) counties on the left, and Sandoval County (32 pages) on the right.

County Pulls a Bait and Switch on Citizens Input Process on Ordinance

The first draft was a work in progress with planning staff and the citizens’ input. Post election resulted in an entirely new and different draft. The document floated as a working draft until May 12th.

Requests were made by Ken McQueen (NMEMNRD), and New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA) director Ryan Flynn to streamline the planning permitting process simultaneously with the state permitting process with intentions to complete it within 10 days. Hundreds of wells can be rubberstamped and approved this way.

At the May 12th meeting, the County Commission stated that they had 2 options:

  1. No ordinance, and simply streamline the application process.
  2. Allow this ordinance to go forward and be approved “as is” document

 This ordinance lacks adequate protections for water, air and public safety. Many issues are not addressed.

Talking points for the Sandoval County Oil and Gas Ordinance Public Hearing

Many of these issues have been ignored in order to allow for increased revenue to the County and state, impacting taxpayers and minority communities.

  • The County’s ordinance should include monitoring and enforcements for the following:
  • Pre-drilling air and water quality assessments, including ground and surface water, post-drilling air and water quality assessments, and aquifer protections and monitoring.
  • Post-operation inspections, assessments and proper remediation responses.
    • Monitoring, inspections and enforcement of regulations are left to the state.


  • Ordinances regulating operator activities are highly inadequate and should include:
  • Oversight of safe waste disposal. Qualifications for determining waste disposal are lacking and should include provisions regarding processes.
    • Direct injection of waste will be allowed on fracking sites.
  • Noise and operational hour requirements.
  • Operator performance verifications.


  • Ordinances should include criteria for accepting and rejecting oil and gas application permits to drill (APDs).
  • An Emergency Response Plan does not exist and needs to be filed with the County.
  • Counties have a responsibility and the tools to ensure community safety in the form of zoning rules and ordinances.The ordinance should include public health safeguards/regulations like accident response and cleanup.
  • Inclusion of oil and gas worker safety and accountability, and employee procedures.


  • Protections for landowners are considerably insufficient.
  • There are no protections for split estate surface landowners. The ordinance states it is solely the responsibility of the landowner to submit concerns at the time of application. Furthermore, value impacts have not been outlined and are left to the Planning & Zoning Commission to determine.
  • The ordinance does not include regulations for additional infrastructure (injection wells, pipelines, compressor stations, waste storage and disposal, etc.) where eminent domain is used.


  • The public comment process lacks transparency and should allow for adequate public review time.
  • There is no public review process on exploratory well applications.
  • Permit reviewing is so streamlined that permits are allowed to be processed within 10 days and without proper notifications to the public.
  • Adequate neighborhood notifications need to be setup to ensure community concerns are heard.

 [1] Final Draft Sandoval County Ordinance

[2] Michael Springfield Video link https://youtu.be/DTBVT-fuGB0 – Video Credit Mike Swick regarding Comments on Emergency Response Plan.

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