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Editorial: Request to explore for oil merits thorough review

Reprinted from the Rio Rancho Observer

We hope SandRidge Exploration and Production’s application for a zone change to drill an exploratory well for oil west of Rio Rancho gets a fair airing before the Sandoval County Planning and Zoning Commission today, but we also expect the county to review the proposed project as thoroughly as possible.

Company representatives will appear before the board today seeking a zone change from Rio Rancho Estate Community District to special use to drill the well on two acres in Unit 1 of Rio Rancho Estates, several miles outside the municipal limits of the city of Rio Rancho.

The company, whose drilling permit application was approved by the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division last month, proposes to drill to a depth of more than 10,000 feet.

We are not an authority on oil exploration, and don’t have enough information to take a position on the proposed operation. However, the site’s proximity to the city of Rio Rancho creates concern – especially in context of the diverse stakeholders involved.

The city of Rio Rancho, through Development Services Director Anthony Caravella, has already weighed in with some of its concerns.

Among them: The impact on the city’s water, given the proposed drilling site. Though outside its boundaries, it is near several municipal water wells. Caravella pointed out that Rio Rancho currently relies entirely on groundwater for its supply.

The city has questions about the drilling operation’s impact on city roads and potential for a large amount of traffic, including heavy trucks, to pass through Rio Rancho.

It is also concerned about increased noise and other disturbances related to the operation, calling for assurances the public would be sufficiently safe from hydrogen sulfide gas that might be encountered during drilling and flowback operations.

SandRidge’s application only recently became general public knowledge. More concerns are likely to surface – and should be discussed and deliberated.

Here is a broader question worth asking: Does Sandoval County have the necessary policies and regulatory framework in place to oversee orderly oil production development in this area of the county if the exploratory work actually reveals resources worth pursuing?

Oil production could be an economic boon for this part of the county. Some people undoubtedly would welcome it. Yet, there certainly are others who aren’t so sure they want to live several miles from a well field, no matter the dividends.

To be sure, the proposal doesn’t seem to mesh with the economic development ideas we’ve heard talked about for Sandoval County the past several years. As a result, the news does come as somewhat of a shock.

Given this novelty, if it takes the planning and zoning commission more than one meeting to make a recommendation to the county commission on the zone change request, so be it.

Let everyone’s voice be heard.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This editorial was originally published in the Rio Rancho Observer on Dec. 6.