P&Z Brings Awareness to Cebolla Residents About Proposed Oil and Gas Sales

Rio Arriba County’s Planning and Zoning Office (P&Z) hosted two community meetings in Cebolla during October to speak to citizens about the Bureau of Land Management’s  (BLM) proposed decision to lease 8 parcels in Cebolla for oil and gas exploration and development. According to Lucia Sanchez, P&Z Assistant Director, about 100 citizens attended the first meeting and about 50 citizens attended the second. The majority of attendees showed opposition to or concern about the proposal and expressed that they had not been notified by BLM concerning the development. RAC P&Z staff utilized the first community meeting to educate and inform the public about the proposal and to explain that the parcels were split estates, which designates that land owners have surface rights, but that the Government controls mineral rights. Since mineral rights take precedence over surface rights, oil and gas companies who purchase the land leases, do have priority to drill. According to Sanchez, after the results from a questionnaire weighing citizen’s concerns was submitted to BLM, eight parcels were deferred from the original plan, which included 16 parcels.

During the second meeting, at which BLM representatives were present, Cebolla citizens were able to ask direct questions concerning drilling methods and the process in which one could protest the proposal. BLM reps responded and informed citizens that fracking was a possible method that may be used and protests must be either mailed in to BLM’s State Office in Santa Fe in letter form, or faxed in by November 16th.

As a result of public response, the P&Z office is now working to amend their existing Oil and Gas Ordinance to provide stricter policies in the best interest of local taxpayers. Some of those amendments include:  

  1. Increased setbacks
  2. Prohibit the injection of chemicals into the ground (including for Fracking)
  3. Require that water used by oil companies come from outside the county
  4. Require that roads to oil well sites be paved
  5. Revoke drilling permits in the event of a spill or similar accident

The RAC P&Z Office is also in the process of developing a formal request to BLM to defer the January 2013 proposal until the area can be further researched and citizens can be thoroughly informed of all aspects involved in exploration. This will also give P&Z more time to amend their ordinance.

“We have to strike a balance,” said Sanchez. “ With these meetings, we were able to bring awareness about our oil and gas ordinance, to educate about split estates, as well as to inform the public of their rights.”

Sanchez added that RAC will be holding an additional meeting for the tentative date of November 14 at the Tierra Amarilla Commission Chambers to explain ordinance amendments; details will be available through the county web site. For more details on the Cebolla BLM Oil and Gas Proposal, please go to www.rio-arriba.org and visit the P&Z page.

-Erika L. Martinez