Valencia Water Watchers

I am extremely concerned about the possibility of oil and gas drilling in Valencia County. As a mother and resident here, I want my children — and all of our children — to grow up drinking clean water and breathing fresh air.

Amber Jeansonne

But something dark is brewing in our county — something that puts our clean water and fresh air at risk, along with the health and well-being of every person in our community.

In May, the Valencia County Commission approved an ordinance for a new Natural Resource Overlay Zone (NROZ). This NROZ ordinance was drafted after Albuquerque oilman Harvey Yates Jr. met with the commission last year, proposing to drill for oil and gas in Valencia County.

Because of serious concerns raised by dozens of community members at the June 1 commission meeting, the commissioners agreed to hold a special public hearing on July 14.

Oil and gas drilling is a health issue. No New Mexico studies have been conducted on the health and safety impacts of drilling on people, water, air and soil. But evidence from other states is clear that oil and gas drilling creates a public health emergency for people living near drilling sites.

Studies show that babies are more likely to be premature, infant deaths increase, toxic chemicals are found in water, air and urine samples, and life expectancy decreases overall for people living close to oil and gas drilling.

Oil and gas drilling is also a drinking water issue. The Albuquerque Basin — the continuous aquifer that provides all well water in Valencia County — runs underground from Cochiti Pueblo to Belen. This aquifer is riddled with fractures (faults). If a drilling operation hits one of these faults, the aquifer — our water — could be contaminated and unusable.

In Wind River Basin in Wyoming, the groundwater was contaminated by oil drilling. The oil and gas company provided bottled water for residents — but when the company left town, residents were on their own. Can you imagine how costly and awkward it is to use bottled water for cooking, showers, laundry, drinking, bathing, etc.? Once our groundwater is contaminated, it will affect all of our lives and health forever.

If oil and gas drilling is permitted in Valencia County without substantial safeguards, much is at stake. Our water, our air, our health and the health of our children, our agricultural community, and our quality of life are all at risk.

As Don Schreiber recently wrote, “A well is never just a well. You need big drilling equipment .. .trucks or pipelines to carry the resulting liquids away .. .roads for the trucks and to access the wells and pipelines.”

And that’s just during the drilling operations. After the oil and gas companies clear out of an area, it’s common for oil wells to be abandoned, with very little oversight (and often no money) for cleanup and aging infrastructure.

Is this what we want for Valencia County?

I’m a member of Valencia Water Watchers (VWW). We are alarmed by this Natural Resource Overlay Zone ordinance. This ordinance overrides the Mineral Resource District (MRD) code that has been in effect since 2004.

When comparing the two, it’s obvious that the NROZ ordinance lacks many of the common-sense safety requirements that are written into the MRD code. Why put a new ordinance in place that provides fewer protections for our community?

County commissioners have a moral, ethical and legal responsibility to ensure their community’s safety, but the NROZ ordinance does not require conducting studies to protect our community. As Valencia County residents, we expect our elected officials to govern responsibly, with transparency and accountability. We expect them to consider the health and safety of the entire community, by making decisions backed by sufficient research. We also expect open, fair and adequately publicized public hearings before they consider any decision that has wide-reaching impacts.

The existing Mineral Resource District code used in this county for almost 20 years provides better protections than the proposed NROZ ordinance offers. We respectfully request that our county commissioners rescind the (proposed) NROZ ordinance and put their efforts toward reviewing and strengthening the time-tested ordinances already in effect.

We are all in this together. We need to work together to ensure that our county is safe for all of us. If you are concerned about the potential for water contamination, air contamination, and dangerous health effects on our community, please contact your Valencia County commissioner and let them know your concerns.

Also, please join us at the public hearing at 5 p.m., Thursday, July 14 at the Los Lunas Transportation Center.

I read “The Lorax” by Dr. Suess to my children this morning. As the Lorax says, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

We all care a whole awful lot. Let’s all stand up together to protect our water and our community!


(Valencia Water Watchers is a non-political, non-partisan grassroots coalition of local residents advocating for water conservation to ensure a sustainable and equitable future for generations to come.)

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Amber Jeansonne, guest columnist