Gallagher, a former president and CEO of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association from 2000-10, said the application was met not only with a large public outcry from county residents, but also initial resistance from county officials.
“I had advised SandRidge that you have a large population in Placitas and Corrales that are ‘not in my backyard people’ – in fact, I go further than ‘not in my backyard’ and you can actually call them ‘B.A.N.A.N.A.s’ – build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything,” he said. “The surprise that we had at the first meeting was that it was obvious that Mike Springfield (director of the county Planning and Zoning Division) had conversations with several of those people, and it was obvious that the chairman and members of the (planning and zoning) board had it.”
SandRidge submitted a zone change application to Sandoval County in November, requesting the county change two acres of land in the Rio Rancho Estates area from residential to special use land. If approved, SandRidge would have conducted an exploratory and production well, drilling 10,500 feet over the duration of 25 days.
After three months of public meetings regarding the application, including a recommendation by the county’s planning and zoning staff and commission for the county commission to deny the zone change request, SandRidge withdrew its application in February.
Gallagher, whose contract with the energy company ended in March, said he was surprised by the county’s lack of support for the project.
“I thought Sandoval County, quite frankly, was pro-business and we found out different,” Gallagher said. “If the exploratory drill was within city limits, I have no doubt we’d be drilling there right now because I think the planning and zoning commission made the vote on politics and emotions.”
Gallagher said he felt misled, saying SandRidge had received word from Springfield three weeks before the December meeting that the application would receive a recommendation.
When reached for comment, Sandoval County Public Information Officer Sidney Hill said, “The county has nothing else to say about the SandRidge application process” and, since the application was withdrawn, the matter is closed.
Hill said any matter decided by the planning and zoning commission or the county commission is not decided until a public vote occurs.
“Anything that may be said by anyone – including a county staff member – about such a matter before the commission votes means nothing,” Hill said.
Gallagher said meetings were filled with hours of public comment hearsay, saying gossip from the public about drillings from other states were given more credence than word from industry professionals.
During December’s planning and zoning commission meeting, the board requested SandRidge split its application in two – one part for exploratory drilling, the other for production. That request, Gallagher said, was absurd.
“How do I go to my client and say, ‘Go ahead and spend $3 million on drilling this well but, when you find out it’s a good well, I can’t guarantee you that you can drill it because they want you to come back again.’ Most absurd thing I’ve ever seen,” he said.
SandRidge submitted additional information about its production well plans in late December, and was met with more questions from the county. In January, the planning and zoning commission voted unanimously not to recommend the application, stating the application’s production information lacked adequate information regarding seven requirements in the county’s zone map amendment guidelines.
SandRidge disagreed with county officials, claiming that, before the county commission voted in February to remand the application back to planning and zoning, the application answered the board’s questions.
SandRidge’s decision to withdraw its application was a missed opportunity for the county, Gallagher said, and it was an opportunity that future oil and gas companies might not take.
“Why would people want to come here when the Kool-Aid’s already been poisoned, and you’ll be fighting an uphill battle and they’re not going to worry about sound science,” he said.
“The other side of it is, there’s a lot of minerals out there. There’s even more minerals there than most people realize.”