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Rochester Hills

March 18, 2014

Fracking has risks, says water commissioner

By Linda Shepard
C & G Staff Writer

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Megan Barnes, a member of the activist group Don’t Drill the Hills, talks about how her group presses for local ordinances addressing gas and oil drilling.

ROCHESTER HILLS — Gas and oil drilling may carry risks to health and the water supply, said Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash.

“They are not doing a lot of fracking in Oakland County,” Nash said at a town hall meeting March 11 at Rochester High School. “They tell us they are not going to, but they tell us a lot of things. If there is one drill near you, chances are you won’t have an accident. If there are a thousand, you will have an accident. The potential for contamination is huge.”

Fracking — a type of drilling where fractures below the earth’s surface are opened and widened by injecting chemicals and liquids at high pressure — has been linked by some environmentalists to the contamination of ground water and risks to air quality.

According to Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett, approximately 400 city residents in eight neighborhoods near Tienken Road have signed leases with Jordan Development Co. for gas and oil drilling on their property.

City officials have signed leases for three city property sites in Rochester Hills: Tienken Park, near Rochester Adams High School; Nowicki Park, off Adams Road; and the Van Hoosen Jones Stony Creek Cemetery, off of Tienken Road. According to the terms of the leases with Jordan Development, no fracking will be allowed in Rochester Hills, Barnett said, and individual homeowners cannot be restricted in signing drilling leases.

Nash said Michigan is a prime candidate for fracking and that drilling will bring unwanted truck traffic and possible dangers.

“We have the perfect sand for this,” he said. “This is going to be in our community. It will be near us, with truck after truck after truck of incredibly powerful chemicals. In some counties in Michigan, they are pulling water out of places they shouldn’t pull water out of, and large areas are losing their fresh water.”

Megan Barnes, an attorney who lives in Rochester Hills, near Adams and Tienken roads, said Jordan Development officials spoke at her neighborhood meeting recently about leasing a commons area for drilling.

“Ninety-four percent of the neighbors voted against it,” said Barnes, a member of the activist group Don’t Drill the Hills. “We decided we didn’t want this and formed this group,” she said. “We go to City Council meetings — we press them for ordinances. We are trying to get our message across that we don’t want this here in our local town.”

But city officials say their hands are tied.

“There is very little regulatory (power) at the local level,” said Rochester Hills City Council member Mark Tisdale. City leases for drilling on city property gave the city more control over future drilling, Tisdale said.

Compulsory pooling, if a non-specified percentage of landowners in a collection of parcels sign drilling leases, could be enforced, he said. “We would have to participate at one-eighth (royalty) instead of one-sixth,” he said. “If we didn’t sign the lease, there may have been extraction here anyway. ”

Nash warned against unintended consequences of drilling in Oakland County.

“Accidents happen,” he said. “Drilling used to be in unpopulated areas and had not much impact. Here, there will be an impact.” 

Michigan is well known for oil and gas production, according to Ben Brower, vice president of Jordan Management Co., which is based in Traverse City and which owns West Bay Exploration Co.

“We are 17th out of 33 for oil and 10th for gas (in the country). My company operates about 450 wells in the state. Most are gas wells,” he said late last year.

Brower said a 2003 well drilled on a 40-acre site near Crooks and Square Lake roads has generated $10 million in royalties. “You have multiple properties that would fall in that category if we found oil,” he said previously. “We certainly can’t promise it, but this is an example close to your community.”

Brower said in October that many Rochester Hills residents had been contacted by Jordan Development and were receptive to gas and oil leases on their personal properties. “Hardly anybody is telling us no,” Brower said then. “Most people are favorable.”

However, Barnett said the city has heard from a number of concerned residents about the matter.

“Ultimately, it is a private property decision that each person is going to make,” Barnett said previously. “We are trying to educate and look at concerns.”

According to Brower, Jordan Development will not use high volume hydraulic fracturing to recover hydrocarbons.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Linda Shepard at lshepard@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1065.