About 200 people attended a meeting at the Southfield Library Wednesday evening to discuss a planned exploration gas and oil well on the Word of Faith International Christian Center property, located at the corner of Nine Mile and Evergreen. Jordan Exploration Company, L.L.C., based in Traverse City, has applied to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) for a permit to drill. There were about 200 more people who couldn’t get in the crowded auditorium so the organizers quickly organized another town hall event to discuss concerns for Monday, February 1 at 6:00 pm at Southfield City Hall, with a room for over-flow viewing as well.
Word of Faith, under the leadership of former Detroit City Councilperson Keith Butler, has entered into an agreement with Jordan Development Company to place a well on the 110-acre church property. The proposed well would drill straight down 2,900 feet in hopes of reaching oil that may be in the layers of rock below. Jordan Development has applied for a permit through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), who could make a determination as early as this week.
Southfield Mayor Ken Siver said he and council members were “adamantly opposed to drilling in a residential area. We are going to fight this.” He stated that he welcomes the Word of Faith church but not the drilling and is also concerned over having to take down 1½ acre of trees.
State Rep. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) helped to get the MDEQ to hold a public hearing, scheduled for Wednesday, Feb 17 at the Southfield City Hall. He said his constituents are overwhelmingly against the drilling. Rep. Moss expressed his concern about the consequences of oil and gas drilling in a dense, populated community like Southfield. He thought there was a heightened sensitivity to the issue due to the Flint water crisis.
He introduced House Bill 5258 on January 27, that:
~Increases the minimum distance a well must be located from a residential building from 450 feet to 2000 feet
~The location and operation of a well must be in compliance with local ordinances
~A public hearing must be held in the municipality where the well is located and public input must be considered
The bill was written to apply to only Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
Jim Nash, the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner presented information concerning hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and the environment impacts of oil and gas wells. He stressed the potential of spills in a residential area as opposed to an industrial area and a lack of data in Michigan that makes before and after drilling comparisons difficult. Recent studies in some states have shown methane contamination in private water wells. The drilling proposed in Southfield is not a fracking well.
Sue Ward-Witkowski, Southfield City Attorney, says currently a moratorium on drilling is in effect unless someone seeks permission before city council. The council is considering an ordinance allowing drilling in industrial areas of the city. If MDEQ allows the permit, then Southfield will seek an injunction.
The audience had numerous questions, many of which may be answered at the February 17 public hearing hosted by MDEQ. They voiced concerns such as the effect on animal life, the Rouge River, and responsibility for security. Southfield resident Kellie Thomas, a member of the Word of Faith church who does not support the planned drilling, said most members of the church were in favor of the drilling but estimated only about 20% of members were residents of Southfield.
Word of Faith has information about the proposed well on a section on their website urging people to write to the DEQ in support of the well. The site notes that the drilling will be a traditional well and will not involve fracking. It also states that “The well, if oil is discovered, will have a positive impact on the Church and community at large due to the royalty income it will provide and the jobs that will be created,” and “The well is located in an upland, dense woods so as to shield itself from local traffic and residential properties.”