We’re not sure the county had much of a choice but to suspend the Oil and Gas Task Force, since the group has hit an impasse in its efforts to produce an ordinance to regulate drilling. But we are certain that the future course of action will be critical to the health and well-being of San Miguel County’s citizenry.
To that end, we urge county officials to commit to something they’ve already indicated they’ll do: Extend the moratorium on drilling until a regulating ordinance has been thoroughly and publicly scrutinized and passed into law.
Nick Leger, San Miguel County Commission chair and a task force member, said at last week’s commission meeting that the 10-member task force won’t likely have a completed ordinance for another couple of years, given its current circumstances. The group has been meeting regularly for more than two years now and has yet to draft an ordinance, but the moratorium on drilling, originally set to allow the task force to complete its work, is about to expire.
Leger pointed out that typically an ordinance would be drafted then submitted to such a task force, but in this case the group was saddled with trying to create the ordinance from scratch. So now the county is planning to have its staff do the research and draft the ordinance, then take it back to the task force for review. Presumably, the task force’s recommendation would carry a lot of weight with the commission, which has the authority to pass the ordinance into law, and that’s as is should be.
Also appropriate — and necessary, to protect the interests of San Miguel County property owners and citizens — is extending the moratorium. Without it, the oil and gas industry could proceed under state and federal regulations only, and we’re convinced that some local controls must be in place as well.
At stake here is a whole host of environmental and economic concerns. The last thing San Miguel County needs is a haphazard approach to regulating an invasive industry. Getting it right needs to come before getting it started. That’s why the moratorium must continue and the process of strong public input must be ensured. Suspending the task force is unfortunate, but it won’t do any damage if the process is continued in all the right ways.