While it was considered an informational meeting, most people who packed the Southfield Library Wednesday evening had their minds already made up. And nothing in the lengthy presentation could alter the groundswell of emotion against a proposed oil well at Word of Faith Church at 9 Mile and Evergreen.
“We are adamantly opposed to drilling in a residential area and there is no place for this in Southfield. We are going to fight this,” Southfield Mayor Ken Siver said to begin the meeting.
The roar of applause following Siver’s “fighting” words could be heard out in the hallway.
It was an overflow crowd and officials had to close the doors to adhere to fire-code regulations. So many people were turned away that a second meeting has been scheduled for Monday, Feb. 1.
The informational meetings are a precursor to a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Drilling Permit Public Hearing scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m., Feb. 17, at Southfield City Hall. Siver stressed the importance of making a stand during the Public Hearing.
“We need a citizen army,” he said. “This is about the community rising up and saying no way.”
Siver also didn’t mince words regarding his opinion of state government.
“The DEQ does what it wants,” he said. “The state has no problem overruling local communities and it happens all the time. It’s just a constant erosion of what is happening in our communities.”
Word of Faith has entered into an agreement with Jordan Development Co. to drill a well on the 110-acre church property. The depth of the well is maxed out at 2,900 feet.
State Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, a former Southfield City Council member who lives near the proposed site, hosted the town hall meeting.
“I’ve heard from an overwhelming number of people opposed to this which is why I felt it was important to present what are the consequences of oil and gas drilling in a very densely-populated area like we have here in Southfield,” said Moss following the meeting. “We wanted to get the information on this process out to our residents and that was what tonight was about.”
Moss said he has seen no timetable on when the DEQ will make a final decision or when drilling could begin if approved. But he does have an idea on how often similar requests put forth before the DEQ are approved.
“Very often,” he said.
Moss this week introduced House Bill 5258, which was referred to the Committee on Energy Policy. The bill would amend the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, which regulates oil and gas drilling permits in Michigan. Key changes proposed include restricting permits in a county with a population of 750,000 or more unless a number of conditions are met. Those conditions would include that the well be at least 2,000 feet from a residential building and that the location and operation of the proposed well be in compliance with applicable local ordinances.
While no one representing the Word of Faith Church spoke Wednesday night, church officials did respond with a strongly worded press release on the: “hype and distortions of the truth regarding the proposed oil drilling on the private property of Word of Faith International Christian Center Church.”
The press release stated: “Our political leaders should be willing to present unbiased information, showcasing both sides of the issue so that the community can make an informed decision. Instead of supplying well-balanced information, some have presented unsubstantiated information to community members who, understandably so, are now in an uproar about oil drilling at Word of Faith.”
According to the release, the well will not be fracked and will be “located in an upland, dense wooded area so as to shield itself from local traffic and residential properties.” Also, the well will be drilled using fresh water and clay and will be located in an area which will not impact the local quality of life... There is no evidence that we are aware of in the State of Michigan where drinking water has ever been compromised due to oil and gas activity.”
Kellie Thomas, who is a member at Word of Faith Church, attended Wednesday and said most of the congregation is in favor of drilling.
“There are a few of us who live in Southfield who are completely against this,” she said. “I think the thought among many (at the church) is that they are going to reap some financial benefit over this when that’s just not the case.”
Thomas estimates that 15 to 20 percent of church members live in Southfield.
“I was very pleased with the turnout here and believe the citizens of Southfield need to stand up and make a stand for their homes, for their city rights and for their children,” she said. “There is no place for this, not in a residential area.”
One of those opposed was Regina Owens, who lives about a mile from the church.
“I’m like a lot of people here who are concerned about the quality of our water,” she said. “I came here to listen but I’m opposed to this.”
Southfield has a moratorium in place on drilling that Moss said “the state is not respecting.” According to Southfield City Attorney Sue Ward the moratorium was put in place by the City Council about a year ago and prevents such a project without approval by the Council.
“We have communicated this to the DEQ that this moratorium is in effect and that this is residentially-zoned property and it is not a permitted use in the City of Southfield,” she said. “We have been looking at allowing mining and drilling in an industrial-zoned property and we have plenty of that in the city. We don’t feel this should be occurring in a residential area.”
Ward said city officials have gone on record opposing this plan through several communications with the DEQ. She said local officials won’t be afraid to take this issue to court if the DEQ approves the project.
Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash gave a presentation on drilling following comments from Siver and Moss. The topics included information on different types of fracking, acidization, hydrofluoric acid, safer alternative energy options and pipeline spills, which “occur more times than you would think.”
Nash said he is personally opposed to deep water fracking but not old-fashioned drilling in certain areas. He said more than once he would be against drilling in a residential area.
While there remains confusion about the project and many questions went unanswered Wednesday night, city officials believe everything will be made clear during the Public Hearing.