Shelby imposes moratorium on residential oil drilling
By Sarah Wojcik
August 21, 2014
On Aug. 19, the Shelby Township Board of Trustees unanimously approved a six-month moratorium on future residential oil drilling in the township, effective immediately.
The moratorium, a last-minute addition to the agenda crafted by township attorney Rob Huth, resulted from the recent construction of a well pad and drill rig by West Bay Exploration Co. in Shelby’s Creekside Village subdivision, located near 25 Mile and Dequindre roads.
Hundreds of residents voiced concerns about noise, vibrations and health risks associated with an oil and gas exploration operation in an area zoned residential.
Huth himself said he lived 457 feet from the operation. In a municipality with a population larger than 70,000, the setback limit from residences is 450 feet. For smaller communities, the setback is 300 feet.
Because a resolution would require action by legislators that could take additional time and the township’s zoning ordinance applies to mining and extraction operations, Huth said a residential moratorium was his best recommendation to address the issue at hand.
“We would not be eligible to respond to a challenge on this moratorium if we did not have the issues we have had,” Huth said. “This has not been managed properly.”
He said the oil industry claimed it needed 24/7 drilling rights to bore the well, but once the drilling phase concluded, crews continued 24/7 with all kinds of operations that “didn’t need to happen.”
“A number of us in our neighborhood were woken up early Saturday morning with trucks honking their horns, banging gates, driving up and down,” he said. “My proposal to the board tonight is, let’s get a moratorium because the state of Michigan has not been able to manage it to our residential needs.”
If the moratorium is challenged, Huth said the township’s position would be that there are other sites to engage in oil and gas operations in industrial-zoned areas of the township and that it is the township’s right to protect the health, safety and welfare of its residents.
“The current status of the law does not protect (residents),” he said. “We have a right to put things in place to protect them based on this horror that we’ve witnessed in the last month in this community.”
Although the moratorium would do nothing to prevent the current drilling operation, Huth said it would prevent future residential drilling in other areas of the township, as well as any more wells West Bay might try to drill at the current site.
West Bay Vice President Patrick Gibson said Aug. 20 that the large oil drill had been removed from the site and that crews had installed a smaller completion rig to check for oil and gas. At press time, he said it would be at least another week before there was conclusive proof of oil.
“We understand you can’t move the minerals, but we believe our police power in this township gives us the right to regulate how it goes forward,” Huth said.
The moratorium states that it is not intended to infringe upon the jurisdiction to the extent reserved and sufficiently implemented by state or federal agencies, but that the township shall proceed promptly in due course to investigate and consider appropriate regulations upon oil and gas activities within the township.
Gibson said that West Bay has drilled five producing wells in Shelby Township since the late 1980s. He said 60 landowners in the area of the current oil drilling operation signed leases to West Bay granting them their mineral rights in return for royalties on any oil produced, and that West Bay has a total of almost 300 leases in the township.
In a 6-1 vote Dec. 3, 2013, the Board of Trustees leased 48 acres of township-owned land — at the Department of Public Works, Fire Station No. 1 and near the Ford/Visteon property — to West Bay for five years for $7,344. Clerk Stanley Grot cast the single nay vote, saying that he was not in the leasing business and that he heard West Bay left a mess at the capped well near Eisenhower High School.
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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