Residents flood library for town hall on oil and gas drilling

 

Residents looking for information on possible oil and gas drilling in Southfield showed up in droves for a presentation from state Rep. Jeremy Moss and Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash Jan. 27 at the Southfield Public Library.

A long line of attendees snaked through the library lobby before the 6 p.m. presentation. Of the approximately 500 people that showed up, about half were able to find seats or a spot to stand along the wall in the library’s auditorium.

The presentation was held in light of information that local church Word of Faith International is in talks with an oil and gas company to drill an exploratory well.

According to a statement in a previous report from Jordan Development Co., a privately owned oil and gas exploration and development company, the company has entered into an agreement with the church to explore for oil and gas on part of the church’s 110-acre property, located at 20000 W. Nine Mile Road.

Jordan Development Co. Vice President Ben Brower said in a previous report that his company believes there is some oil and gas on the property, and the only way to find out is to drill a well.

The release said that the proposed well would be located in the dense woods behind the church, away from residents and other property owners.

The well would be 3,000 feet deep, and the entire process would take about two weeks, Brower said. The well would not be hydraulically fractured, the statement and Brower said previously.

However, City Planner Terry Croad said in November that the city of Southfield had extended a 180-day moratorium on oil and gas extraction and mining operations at its Oct. 19 meeting. The extension was approved unanimously.

Since then, the city has released several statements opposing the drilling proposal, and officials said in a release that they requested additional information and analysis Jan. 19 from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in an effort to deny the drilling.

In a press release, Community Relations Director Michael Manion said the city is asking for information on how the well would impact nearby residential water wells, endangered species, the environment and air quality, and how the applicant would prevent waste.

In a previous report, City Administrator Fred Zorn expressed concerns about the MDEQ’s review process and said the city is attempting to work with the MDEQ to address citizen concerns about the proposed well.

In addition to Southfield Mayor Ken Siver, several members of City Council were present, along with City Attorney Susan Ward-Witkowski.

“I’m here to get more up-to-date information. The council is against fracking and drilling in the city, so I want to get comments from the community and see what the flavor of the community is,” Councilman Dan Brightwell said before the meeting.

Siver spoke passionately about drilling in Southfield.

“We are all adamantly opposed to drilling in a residential area. As far as we are concerned, this has no place in Southfield. We are a developed community, and this is a community with over 800 acres of parkland, including park woods right across the street from Word of Faith,” Siver said at the meeting. “We are going to fight this. ... The DEQ does what they want. It’s sort of amazing to me that the state government will complain all the time when the federal government mandates something, but the state Legislature has no problem overruling local communities. It happens all the time.”

Siver said he was pleased at the number of people who showed up for the meeting. “I kept saying we need a citizen army — well, here we are,” Siver said.

Moss introduced at the meeting House Bill 5258, which would restrict oil and gas drilling in residential areas. Specifically, the bill would prohibit a permit from being granted in a county with a population of 750,000 or more unless the proposed well is located 2,000 feet from a residential building; the location and operation of the proposed well is in compliance with local ordinances; the MDEQ has held a public hearing in the city, village or township in which the proposed well is located; and public opinion is considered.

“I’m concerned about the local government’s voice not being able to be amplified enough and respected during this process by which the DEQ considers a permit,” Moss said at the meeting.

Hal Fitch, chief of the office of oil, gas and minerals at the MDEQ, said the organization is listening to residents’ concerns on the matter.

"We recognize people’s concerns," Fitch said. “We’ve been keeping track of the protests, compiling all the comments — pro and con — we’ve got from the citizens.”

Fitch also denied fracking at the church, stating that the land is not conducive to fracking.

“There will not be fracking there,” Fitch said.

At the meeting, Nash gave an overview on oil and gas drilling and what impact that would have on the community and the environment. Earthquakes, air quality, groundwater quality and oil spills were addressed.

Nash said he believes the nation should be moving in a more sustainable direction and not rely on fossil fuels.

“In my view, sustainability is the standard all governments should follow. As the American Indians said before us, you have to look at the next seven generations ahead of us,” Nash said at the meeting. “I wouldn’t go quite that far, but the next 20-30 years, look at what this decision is going to mean 20-30 years down the road and fossil fuels are a thing of the past.”

Nash said he believes drilling should be done in industrial areas only, and that safer alternatives are needed for oil and gas drilling.

“To me, we can’t just be against something. We can’t just say we shouldn’t have this. We’ve got to find ways to get past it,” Nash said.

During the presentation, Moss invited attendees to write questions on notecards, which would be addressed and answered following the presentation.

The crowd quickly became rowdy, demanding information.

Detroit resident Patricia Cage said she grew up in Southfield and fears the government is not listening to the community’s concerns.

“I don’t have a lot of faith in the (MDEQ) right now. If they’re the ones that are going to be making the decision about this after what is happening in Flint, I don’t know if I have any faith in what these people say they’re doing,” Cage said.

Resident Kathy Montgomery said she was outraged that oil and gas drilling could possibly happen in her community.

“How dare they come into our community. They don’t even live here. It’s not going to affect them,” Montgomery said.

To accommodate the volume of people, Moss announced that another town hall would take place Feb. 1, after press time, in the library’s auditorium.

The MDEQ is inviting residents to a public comment meeting on the matter from 6 to 9 p.m. Feb. 17 in the Southfield High School auditorium, 24675 Lahser Road. The space can hold up to 600 people.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a process using water, sand and an assortment of chemicals to break up rock miles below the Earth’s surface and harvest natural gas. The practice is a controversial one. Opponents of fracking believe that it is more harmful to the environment than traditional extraction, while others believe that it keeps energy costs down because it allows for a larger gas harvest.

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