My Turn: Drilling oversight best left to locals


Little is as fascinating to watch than the collision of competing property rights, combined with the notion of government oversight — all of which, of course, come into play when discussing oil and gas drilling.

New Mexico, blessedly, has long benefited from revenues that flow in from oil and gas production. Currently, Southern New Mexico is booming. Northern New Mexico, as is often the case, has a different notion of what constitutes the good life.

Before profiting from oil and gas exploration, many residents and their county governments want more answers about long-term effects on lands and water.

Writing earlier this week, Santa Fe New Mexican reporter Staci Matlock laid out different proposals for legislation that would affect oil and gas drilling in the state. One of the biggest measures being considered this legislative session would make it more difficult for local governments to police their own lands.

Industry backers, as well as the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, believe New Mexico state law regulates oil and gas production well enough. Residents in counties where drilling is less established — San Miguel, Taos, Mora and Rio Arriba, for example — have a different point of view.

So worried are county governments, in fact, that they are considering following Santa Fe County in writing more restrictive rules that companies must follow if they want to drill. Rio Arriba has an ordinance, and is considering amendments to make it more restrictive.

To head off the renegade counties, the state and industry would like to clarify just who controls drilling regulations. Stepping up to help out is State Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, who has introduced Senate Bill 463, which would cede power to the state — taking away a county government’s right to protect its water and land as it sees fit.

This is an industry-backed bill, and somewhat surprising for Cisneros, who is calling it a way to start a conversation about state and local authority.

Well, we agree that he has sparked a debate, perhaps a more fiery one than he wanted. It only makes sense to let the people closest to the land and water decide what happens in their back yards.

Just as folks in Hobbs and Lovington don’t seem to mind drilling, farmers and small ranchers in Mora County or Rio Arriba County want more answers about whether drilling will damage their water — and that should be their prerogative.

So loud has the backlash been, that Cisneros is thinking of switching the bill’s status to a memorial that requests a study. He is right that the two viewpoints — locals’ desire to protect their land and water, and an industry’s need to develop resources and make money — are “diametrically opposed.”

We’d say the good senator should side with his constituents over the needs of industry. Conservatives generally believe the best control is local — that’s a clear principle in their governing philosophy.

In the case of regulating oil and gas drilling, we would have to agree that government works best closest to the people. After all, it’s the folks who live by the river who have the most interest in keeping the water clean and flowing.

Inez Russell Gomez is the Editorial Page Editor for the Santa Fe New Mexican. See Page B6 for Staci Matlock’s story on oil and gas bills at the state Legislature.


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