Rio Arriba Concerned Citizens is a grassroots organizations whose mission is to

“Support and focus concerns, actions and outreach related to the quality and use of land, air, and water resources in Rio Arriba County and the State of New Mexico while maintaining consideration and respect for the preservation of traditional cultural values and consistent with sustainable economic development.” 

Rio Arriba is the name of our county and our group but more then that it means “Up River” and is a reminder that in New Mexico we are “up river” and what happens here will affect many downstream. Get involved today.


Leah Hoffman

I first arrived in Cebolla, New Mexico in 1989.  I lived here for nine months on a sabbatical from my ordinary life and moved on that fall only, to return in 1992 with my husband.  We built an Earthship on 20 acres, designed our lives to be completely off-the-grid, and settled in.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Cebolla; we are the first village on Hwy. 84 situated north of Abiqui. There is a bar at one end and a church at the other. The population hangs around 100-150 people and most people are ranchers. Most of our roads are still dirt and none of us are wealthy.

I had become aware of a process for oil and gas exploration called hydrofracking due to the “Haliburton loophole” created by Dick Cheney in 2004 I was appalled to find that this process involved forcing deadly chemicals into the ground and that the loophole made it possible for large corporations to evade oversight by the EPA and the Clean Air and Water Act.  I signed petitions with MoveOn and went about my life.

In October of 2012 the BLM held it’s first meeting in Cebolla to begin a process with the community as a part of a proposed sale of oil and gas leases comprising 13,300 acres in Cebolla proper.  This was the first any of us had heard of this.  We had less than one month to write letters of protest.

Unbeknownst to us, the BLM had begun this process back in 2004 by initiating a Land Use Plan.  In May of 2012 they completed a Resource Management Plan and found No Significant Impact to the environment. This enabled the proposed lease sales for oil and gas exploration in Cebolla. All of this was done with no input from the people.

Now I HAD to do something.  What had previously been a vague foreboding of evil loose upon the land was now a real live wolf at my door.  My husband and I and ten other people sent letters of protest.  We were able to halt the BLM.  Twelve people and a quickly prepared letter from Western Environmental Law Center halted the grinding wheels of the Federal Government.

We have, since that time, obtained three deferrals and we are still fighting.

Cebolla’s plight is not just our own.  We are the headwaters for all the water south of us.  Even if we do back off the BLM here, our President, our Governor and our County are all pushing for oil and gas exploration in the Frontier District of Rio Arriba County (as well as ALL of New Mexico) and there is big money involved.

Oil and gas exploration WILL occur.  Let’s face it, I drive a car and our household uses about 200 gallons of propane a year.  I am grateful for my cooking stove, hot water and my little heater in the bathroom.  I am a consumer too, but I don’t believe that we must compromise places such as the Frontier District of Rio Arriba County in order to fuel our consumption.

I have become empowered through my experience with the BLM.  I would like to urge all of you reading this article to put use the power of the people to direct our government, on all levels, on a course that insures the health and safety of our environment.  We all must have clean water to live.

Now is the time to contact our local government agencies and voice our concerns.

Prior to Commissioner Garcia’s election in January of 2013 the Rio Arriba County Planning and Zoning department, under the direction of Patricio Garcia, had initiated twelve proposed amendments to the current Oil and Gas Ordinances.  You will find a link on this page to take you to these proposed amendments and the Ordinances.

Patricio Garcia was fired from his position in March of 2013.

The amendments have been tabled ever since.

We, the people, must demand that these proposed amendments be opened up to the public for discussion once again.  These amendments are meant to strengthen the existing protections for our health and environment.

We have prepared two documents linked to this article that will help you to understand the need for these proposed amendments.  Please take the time to read them and decide for yourselves what they mean to you.


I confess, it took the wolf right at my door to get me active. Don’t wait. If you listen closely you’ll hear them howling.

Rio Arriba, Area in green is the Frontier District

Full text of the Rio Arriba County Oil and Gas Ordinance:
Rio Arriba County Oil and Gas Ordinance

Here is a summary of the amendments to oil and gas regulation in Rio Arriba County being proposed by our Rio Arriba County Planning and Zoning Department. These amendments are to the above Oil and Gas Ordinance.   The page numbers refer to the page of the Ordinance that the proposal refers to.

These amendments are meant to strengthen the existing protections for our health and environment.

We’ve created this guide to help you understand how these amendments affect you.   It is not a publication of the Planning and Zoning Department.   We urge you to make up your mind and contact your commissioners. 

PROPOSAL ONE (pg 24) deals with how close oil and gas rig sites are allowed to be to our homes, our schools, our water sources. 

The regulations call this distance a setback.   As you look below at the distances that are in the regulations now, think about whether they provide enough protection from oil and gas sties.   The average distance of an underground horizontal fracking channel can be from 1,000 to 10,000 feet.
650 feet from an inhabited dwelling (roughly two football fields)
1,000 feet from a place of assembly, school or institution
200 feet from non-residential structures
200 feet from any federal, state or county highway dedicated for public use
300 feet from any surface water features like streams, lakes and ponds
200 feet from existing water wells used by less than 5 households
1,000 feet from existing water wells used by 5 or more households
Distance from a designated cultural, historic or archaeological resource would be determined by the appropriate surface management agency.

PROPOSAL TWO (pg 25)  prohibits the injection of chemicals in the ground for drilling.  

Other drilling technologies are available that would be more suitable for the protection of our regional headwater district.

PROPOSAL THREE (pg 29) requires that all water used by oil companies come from outside the county.   

A single fracking well can require up to 7 million gallons of water. Our county is in a 20-year drought. We have no water to spare.

PROPOSAL FOUR (pg 20) requires that all roads to well sites be paved. 

We need to consider maintenance and potential runoff issues.

PROPOSAL FIVE revokes drilling permits in the event of a spill or similar accident.  

This would mean more rigorous monitoring of well site by the county. For example, perhaps surveillance cameras would be required.

PROPOSAL SIX required that solar energy be used to power well sites.

It only makes sense to take advantage of New Mexico’s 300 day a year of sunlight to eliminate noise and exhaust pollution.

PROPOSAL SEVEN requires the oil companies to offer oil-related jobs to qualified or trainable local residents BEFORE bring in outside workers.

We know from experience elsewhere, they don’t necessarily make this effort.

PROPOSAL EIGHT requires the oil companies to provide all the temporary housing and infrastructure needed to accommodate drilling in this area.

We might want to suggest that Rio Arriba County Planning and Zoning put some conditions on the nature of these facilities.

PROPOSAL NINE (pg 32) could increase the amount of money oil and gas companies have to set aside up front to pay for consequences of accidents, damage to property and the environment, etc.

Right now, the regulations set this amount at one million dollars.  We might want to think about this number in relation to the large profits of these companies.

PROPOSAL TEN (pg 23) prohibits well sites in open areas and required that they be located only in wooded areas for purposes of visual screening. 

We need to consider fire danger here, as well as removal of trees necessary to accommodate the current regulation.  We might change this regulation in a way. That would suggest other forms of visual screening.

PROPOSAL ELEVEN (pg 20) prohibits the building of new roads to access oil and gas well sites.

PROPOSAL TWELVE (pg 24) would establish a maximum distance that an oil well site can be located from existing roads.

You may recall from the distances in the Proposal One that a minimum distance of 200 feet is already in place.

Join us for a screening of Split Estate followed by speakers and community dialog.

Rural Events Center
State 554, Abiquiu

May 4, 2014 2:00 PM

“’Split Estate’ is an eye-opening examination of the consequences and conflicts that can arise between surface land owners in the western United States, and those who own and extract the energy and mineral rights below.  This film is of value to anyone wrestling with rational, sustainable energy policy while preserving the priceless elements of cultural heritage, private enterprise above-ground, and the precious health not only of people but the land itself.” 

—Bill Richardson, Former Governor of New Mexico