After a two-year dispute, the Sandoval County Commission recently voted to kill an oil and gas ordinance that would have given a blank check to the fossil fuel industry in this rural and residential county outside Albuquerque. Food & Water Watch was among the groups spearheading opposition to the application by the Oklahoma-based SandRidge Energy Corporation to open up drilling two years ago, which sparked the long battle between residents and the County Commission. The County Commission chair Don Chapman was the only commissioner to vote in favor of the measure, which was defeated by four votes to one.
Food & Water Action volunteers—both local and around the country—turned out overflow crowds to a series of hours-long hearings, where dozens of concerned citizens and local organizers testified how such an ordinance would clear the way for drilling that would threaten the public health of the community, its groundwater and environment.
Here, in the desert Southwest, community members spoke against what they felt was an imminent threat to local water. Sustainable economic development and good job opportunities were at risk without clean, fresh water that would be threatened by oil and gas operations, they said.
As a Food & Water Watch senior organizer living in Sandoval County, this fight was personal. I could not let our spectacularly beautiful community be sacrificed to benefit Big Oil.
My neighbors and I do not want our county to be at the mercy of boom and bust cycles that characterize oil towns. And we are not willing to see it polluted by dirty drilling operations.
In addition, backers of the proposed ordinance showed disregard for the sovereign Indigenous nations that have lived in Sandoval County for centuries. Native governments were excluded from drafting or voting on any version of the law, and Pueblo governors expressed grave concerns over the plan to open their lands to oil and gas drilling. In the end, the commission could not ignore the imperative of tribal consultation.
After two years of public education, testimony and protests, this ordinance was defeated and the issue will be sent back to the Planning and Zoning Commission. When citizens organize to protect their communities, public officials have no choice but act in the interest of their constituents.