New Mexico has the nation's highest jobless rate: 6.8%. You'd think its residents would welcome anyone who wants to come to the state and create jobs. Especially when that company is in the industry that has been hard hit by low oil prices and that is responsible for a third of New Mexico's state revenues.
But they don't. In fact, a major campaign has been mounted to prevent job creation in Sandoval County.
The company in question is Oklahoma-based SandRidge Energy Inc.--which leased the mineral rights from AMREP last year. Despite the drop in oil prices, it is moving ahead with plans to drill an exploratory well in Sandoval County. The well, which has already received approval from the state Oil and Conversation Division (OCD), is "about four miles outside of the Rio Rancho city limits," reported the Albuquerque Journal.
The SandRidge well will be vertical, drilled to a depth of 10,500 feet--which is expected to take about 25 days. Until the well is drilled and logged, engineers will not know whether or not the resource will warrant completion or, if it does, if it will require hydraulic fracturing. The OCD permit is to drill, complete, and produce the well. Jami Grindatto, president and CEO of the Sandoval Economic Alliance says the environmental footprint would be "small."
Several previous exploratory wells have been drilled in the Albuquerque Basin that were determined not to be economically viable--though oil was found. In northern Sandoval County there are already 600 wells on tribal or federal lands. According to the NM Tax Research Institute, in 2013, when oil prices were higher, Sandoval County producers shipped 1.08 million barrels of oil worth $86 million and 394.1 million MCF of natural gas worth $1.6 billion.
Tonight, January 28, the project is the topic of a special Sandoval County Planning and Zoning Committee meeting to consider the request for a special use permit. According to Albuquerque Business First, "the Sandoval County Planning and Zoning Division staff recommended denying a zone change request." The final say rests with the County Commissioners, not the Planning and Zoning Committee.
In December, Sandoval County Commissioner James Dominguez, District 1, said he "has some major concerns that the drilling could compromise the water supply and air quality in Rio Rancho." KOAT News cites Dominguez as saying: "I know that eventually, in time, it will pollute our water sources"--this despite mountains of contrary evidence. Several comments on the KOAT story echo Dominguez's hyperbole: "oil fracking destroys water supply forever" and "It is beyond reason that the city would allow ANY oil drilling operations within a dozen miles of water wells. I really believe ANY benefit of those would be greatly offset by ground water contamination. We NEED clean water more than oil."
One uninformed opponent, Marek Coston, wrote: "Of all the millions of acres of undeveloped land away from residence and major aquifers there is no justifiable reason to put it here." Marek, the reason is that is where the oil is. You can't just find oil anywhere. New Mexico is blessed with abundant oil and natural gas resources, but they are not found everywhere. SandRidge has done the seismology and believes there is economically recoverable resource at that location--though it may not be produced in the current oil price environment.
Yet, others were supportive: "A lot of jobs will come with this. I hope this passes for Sandoval county and Rio Rancho!!" and "People cry so much about jobs and how New Mexico is such a poor state. Now there's a good opportunity to bring in revenue and right away people want to shut it down."
The Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club is rallying folks to attend tonight's meeting to voice opposition to the exploration. Attendance is expected to be so large that the meeting will be held in either the commission chambers or the lobby of the county offices at 1500 Idalia Road in Bernalillo. While, due to stacked numbers, it is not expected that supporters will be allowed to speak, I am asking for your presence to bring some balance and reality to the misinformation.
With the New Mexico Legislature currently debating how to fill the "monster hole" in the state budget, denying economic development is deplorable. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports: "lawmakers must sweep dollars from every state program just to keep the lights on for existing services."
Because tonight's meeting is not the final decision, just a recommendation to the Commission--which they can consider or overrule, I am asking folks who truly understand the process to send emails to the County Commissioners to dispel the hyperbole (as I've highlighted) surrounding this project. Their contact information can be found here. Getting an email-statement on record is very important to the process.
The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens' Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America's Voice for Energy-which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit