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Another New Mexico county eyes drilling limits

LAS VEGAS, N.M. — Another New Mexico county is considering a measure to severely restrict oil and gas drilling.

The San Miguel County Commission is expected to vote on an oil and gas drilling ordinance that imposes some of the strictest requirements on hydrocarbon exploration in the country, the Las Vegas Optic reported (

The proposed ordinance to be considered Wednesday would restrict oil and gas exploration to a sparsely populated eastern part of the county in northeast New Mexico.

Other requirements would impose various application fees and make drillers pay for pre-drilling assessments. Companies would also have to enter into a development agreement with the county to pay for all necessary public infrastructure projects such as roads.

The oil and gas industry has expressed interest in the southeastern portion of San Miguel County, specifically the Trementina sub-basin of the Tucumcari basin.

Some opponents who oppose the ordinance say it opens up the county to oil and gas drilling. They want the county to continue a drilling moratorium imposed in January 2010 after a resident alerted officials to oil and gas exploration that took place without the county’s knowledge.

Robert Freilich, a Los Angeles planning and zoning attorney hired by the county to develop the ordinance, said it protects the county and can stand up to legal scrutiny.

If it passes, Freilich said he doubts that oil and gas developers will be flocking to San Miguel County.

“I think we have a really exceptional ordinance,” he said.

The San Miguel County proposal comes as a federal judge considers the fate of an ordinance in nearby Mora County that outright bans oil and natural gas drilling across a remote and sparsely populated stretch of northern New Mexico.

U.S. District Judge James Browning has said portions of Mora County’s ordinance are unconstitutional. It outlaws the extraction of oil and natural gas and puts the county’s decision-making rights ahead of business interests and federal and state permits.