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San Miguel County to consider new drilling ordinance

drillLAS VEGAS, N.M. – San Miguel County commissioners are considering imposing strict rules for oil and natural gas development throughout the northeastern New Mexico county.

The latest draft of the county’s drilling ordinance has been months in the making. It’s more than 100 pages and sets out a laundry list of the things developers would have to do before any drilling can be done.

The draft, developed at the county’s request by a Los Angeles-based consultant, calls for developers to assess available water supplies to determine whether they can meet the demand associated with their drilling projects. They must also identify existing water rights and suppliers.

The county would also reserve the right to suspend existing and permitted oil and gas development should severe drought continue and water supplies grow more scarce.

Developers would also have to document and mitigate “all community health effects” before drilling, hydraulic fracturing and extraction of any oil or gas can occur.

The draft ordinance also imposes impact fees on the industry, requiring drillers to cover the cost of additional public infrastructure that will be needed as a result of their operations.

The County Commission has scheduled a special meeting later this month to discuss the draft ordinance.

County Manager Les Montoya told the Las Vegas Optic ( he has been reading through the draft.

The county hopes to vet the proposal and take a final vote by Dec. 13. That’s when the county’s moratorium on oil and gas exploration expires.

Oil and gas development has been a controversial issue in San Miguel County and the city of Las Vegas in recent years. Some environmentalists have been pushing for an outright ban in the county, while proponents of the industry have been pressuring county officials to allow drilling.

Environmentalists argue that the dangers of oil and gas exploration, particularly fracking, are too high. Proponents, including members of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration, point to the jobs and other economic benefits drilling would bring to San Miguel County.

Commissioners ruled out an outright ban on extraction months ago, but they have each voiced support for a strong ordinance that protects the water, land and well-being of the county’s residents.

Any changes proposed during this month’s special meeting will be incorporated into a new draft that will be available to commissioners for their Oct. 8 meeting.

The new draft will also be forwarded to the Planning and Zoning Commission for review and a series of public hearings will be held.