Residents raise concerns about oil drilling in Shelby
By Sarah Wojcik
August 13, 2014
SHELBY TOWNSHIP — On Aug. 7, several hundred concerned residents flooded the Shelby Township municipal building’s board room for a town hall meeting to discuss and answer questions about the oil drilling underway near 25 Mile and Dequindre roads.
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality geologist Jack Lanigan and township attorney Rob Huth were on hand to provide a detailed outline of how oil drilling is regulated and the role the township played in such an event.
Representatives from West Bay Exploration Co., the oil and gas company that entered into a lease with landowner Nino Homes, did not attend the meeting.
Because of House Bill 4746, passed in 2011, Huth said that the township has no control over leasing between oil companies and private owners of mineral rights. It is regulated through the state, he said, and therefore, the township’s hands were tied.
Dozens of residents of Shelby Township and Rochester voiced their displeasure at the 24-hour activity at the site, where an approximately 120-foot oil rig was burrowing a hole to send down steel casings and probe for oil. West Bay’s permit allows a limit of 5,668 feet of directional drilling and a drilling depth limit of 5,200 feet.
Many residents’ concerns included the presence of a large oil rig and drilling effort in the middle of a densely populated subdivision, its effect on their health and the health of the surrounding land, and nearby homeowners’ property values decreasing.
Lanigan admitted that this is the first time he had seen horizontal drilling so close to a residential area. He oversees five counties — St. Clair, Macomb, Oakland, Wayne and Monroe.
At the meeting, Lanigan said his department had to grant West Bay its 40-acre permit because their application met the MDEQ’s requirements. He said West Bay likely would know if the site would offer a producing well in the coming weeks and months.
He added that West Bay covered the entire site in a plastic liner with berms around it to protect from any contamination, and that it also has six wells in place to monitor the shallow ground water in the area.
After the large rig finished the hole, he said a smaller completion rig — about 104 feet high — would come in for up to two months to test the area for oil and gas products. Crews would only work during the day during the completion rig phase.
Legally, the company is permitted to use swabbing, or plunge the pipe to see what comes up, and hydrochloric acid to dissolve the rock — if it fizzes, crews would know they reached their goal of the carbonate limestone in the Trenton-Black River Formation, Lanigan said.
During swabbing, he said the process could bring gas back to the surface, which the MDEQ requires be burnt on location.
“They are not permitted to hydraulic fracture. They don’t want to do it and don’t intend to do it, but we don’t allow them to do it anyway,” he said. “The carbonate rock is naturally fractured.”
If the company doesn’t find anything, the MDEQ would regulate the plugging of the well and crews would restore the area and leave, Lanigan said, and added that oil companies have a 33-34 percent success rate in Macomb County.
If they did find oil and gas, Lanigan said they would put in a horseshoe pump, a more permanent, 12- to 14-foot structure that would operate using an electric motor, be virtually noiseless and not require crews to man it.
“West Bay agreed that site will not be a processing site,” Huth said. “It has to be an industrial-zones section of the township if they want to process it.”
If there were oil and gas, Lanigan said trucks would carry liquids away from the site by truck and the company would utilize pipelines to take it to a yet-to-be-determined processing facility.
At the end of the meeting, Huth composed a list of five action points that he said he would bring back to the Board of Trustees for implementation.
The first would be to provide a link on the township’s website — www.shelbytwp.org — listing applications for future oil drilling permits. He said he would also regularly inquire about whether or not there had been spills at the site and publish that on the website, as well.
In an effort to improve public communication, which he admitted had been less than ideal, information on the website would also be sent to interested recipients via an email blast.
Huth said the township would also have a meeting with West Bay for it to tell what they found at the site and invite Sen. Jack Brandenburg, Rep. Peter Lund and the two candidates for District 36 state representative, Peter Lucido and Robert Murphy.
“We’ll ask them to take a look at the situation we’re living with and to ask them to consider some help, legislatively,” he said.
The last action point Huth offered would be to consider whether the township could enact an ordinance to discourage horizontal oil drilling in a residential area in the community again.
“(The Board of Trustees) could never have come up with this plan,” Supervisor Rick Stathakis said. “We needed all of you. We needed your input so you could tell us what we need to be looking at, what we need to be focusing on and how we can go about it.”
For more information about oil drilling regulations or the MDEQ’s Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals, visit www.michigan.gov/ogs.
About the author
Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik covers Shelby Township and Utica for the Shelby-Utica News. Sarah has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2013 and attended Oakland University. She won a first place 2013 Excellence in Journalism award for open government reporting and a second place 2014 Excellence in Journalism award for a series of explanatory stories from the Detroit chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
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