I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
San Miguel County oil drilling task force has more industry ties than claimed, may meet secretly
More members of San Miguel County’s oil and gas drilling regulations-writing task force have industry ties than the public was led to believe — and the group may meet secretly, the Las Vegas Optic reports.
The 10-member task force was formed by County commissioners to help write oil and gas drilling regulations. San Miguel County and the City of Las Vegas currently have moratoriums on any drilling until the regulations are completed.
The task force consists of four groups, county officials said: an oil and gas industry group, an environmental and educational group, citizens, and county government representatives.
Only two members are supposed to represent industry: Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico attorney Karin Foster and John Michael Richardson of Petroleum and Mineral Land Services.
But at least two other members also have oil industry ties, The Optic found.
Larry Webb, one of three citizen representatives on the task force, leases land in eastern San Miguel County to oil and gas companies for drilling. He complained in March that the County’s drilling moratorium violates his private property rights.
Webb lists his residence in Guadalupe County rather than San Miguel.
And one of the two environmental representatives on the task force, Jeffrey Mills, confirmed that he receives gas and oil royalties for holdings in Texas and Louisiana.
Mills said he discovered oil in the Gulf of Mexico when working for industry, but that he does not represent any oil or gas interests in New Mexico.
Mills has worked at the state Environment Department since 2001, where he is currently assigned to the Petroleum Storage Tank Bureau, according to state records.
“The County Commission tried to make the best choices it could,” County planning and zoning supervisor Alex Tafoya said. “The task force is a group of people putting an ordinance together. It’s not like we’re creating a new nuclear bomb.”
The task force has not yet met, Tafoya said – and he said it is uncertain whether or not the public will be allowed to attend the group’s meetings.
“Without knowing the legal authority given to the task force, it’s hard to say whether it would be legally required to follow the Open Meetings Act and allow the public into its meetings,” New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG) Director Sarah Welsh told The Independent Wednesday. “But in general, I would urge anyone organizing a task force on such a contentious public issue to be as transparent as possible.”
The public is less likely to accept recommendations resulting from a secretive process, Welsh noted, and members of the public “are likely to have valuable input and knowledge that would benefit the process.”
A search of state records Wednesday by The Independent found no company named Petroleum and Mineral Land Services registered in New Mexico.