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Commission on right track

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By Optic Editorial Board

We don’t envy members of the San Miguel County Commission who at this moment are grappling with the future of oil and gas drilling in this county. To say that the five men on the Commission are caught between a rock and a hard place is a gross understatement.

Many in this community would like nothing more than to see the County Commission reverse course and institute a community rights ordinance that bans oil and gas drilling in the county outright. They view the stringent draft ordinance that has been proposed as merely opening the door to drilling and hydraulic fracturing, something they view as catastrophic to the environment.

On the other side, commissioners are hearing from representatives of the oil and gas industry and from private landowners in the far eastern part of the county who want the economic benefits that come from oil and gas drilling.

They argue that the county’s draft drilling ordinance is too costly and restrictive and will keep the industry out of San Miguel County. They want the commission to kill the draft ordinance and rely on drilling regulations already established by the state.

Any decision the Commission makes is going to be unpopular, and no amount of time is going to change that reality.

Commissioners Nicolas Leger, Ron Ortega and Marcellino Ortiz appear to recognize that fact. Last week, they rejected a proposal from the county’s Planning and Zoning Commission to extend the moratorium on drilling for another two years.

The moratorium has already been in effect for four years.

Instead, Leger, Ortega and Ortiz are pushing for a six-month extension, which means the moratorium would be in effect until Jan. 11, 2015.

Commissioners Arthur Padilla and Gilbert Sena wanted the two-year extension.

Unpopular as it may be, we feel that Leger, Ortega and Ortiz are on the right track. A two-year extension will do little more than delay a difficult decision.

Commissioners have already said they are not in favor of a community rights ordinance because they view it as unconstitutional. We completely agree.

You don’t have to be a legal scholar to realize that an ordinance that attempts to strip corporations and people of the rights the U.S. Supreme Court has already said they have is not going to survive any level of judicial scrutiny.

Likewise, we urge commissioners to reject the criticism that the draft ordinance they are considering is too strict and too costly for the oil and gas industry.

A strict regulatory ordinance is the only way to protect San Miguel County, and the fees imposed need to be sufficient to provide the county with the resources necessary to adequately police the oil and gas industry, which has a less than stellar environmental record.

Commissioners should approve the six-month extension to the moratorium and then get to work on addressing any loose ends in the draft ordinance.