City passes drilling moratorium

By: Linda Shepard | Rochester Post | Published September 3, 2014

ROCHESTER HILLS — City officials have approved an oil and gas well drilling moratorium for six months, but a resident group also wants the city to rescind signed leases for drilling on city land.

Members of the Rochester Hills City Council gave unanimous approval to the moratorium Aug. 26 at a special meeting. The moratorium was prompted by recently introduced state legislation and residents’ continued opposition to gas and oil drilling, said city officials.

Rochester Hills City Council President Greg Hooper said an exploratory oil well in adjacent Shelby Township, at 25 Mile and Dequindre roads — recently shut down by West Bay Exploration Co. in the wake of residents’ objections — was also a factor prompting the moratorium.

If enacted, Senate Bill 1026 would alter state law concerning oil and gas development by prohibiting the drilling of oil or gas wells in cities or townships with populations of 70,000 or more, effectively banning it in Rochester Hills.

“Legislation needed to be introduced and changed at the state level in order to give local communities the control that we do not have currently,” Hooper said. “This Senate bill does that. This is a game changer, because it would remove Rochester Hills from gas and oil well sitting.”

A group of Rochester Hills residents, Don’t Drill the Hills Inc., filed a lawsuit against the city and Jordan Development Co. in May opposing oil and gas drilling leases on city property.

City officials signed gas and oil drilling leases with West Bay Exploration Co. for three city property sites: Tienken Park, near Rochester Adams High School; Nowicki Park, off of Adams Road; and the Stony Creek Cemetery, off of Tienken Road.

Members of DDHI said they have concerns about horizontal drilling in respect to property rights, property values, environmental risks, insurance complications, tanker traffic, and transparency in the drilling and lease process.

According to West Bay Vice President of Land Patrick Gibson, approximately 400 city residents in eight neighborhoods near Tienken Road have signed leases with West Bay for gas and oil drilling on their properties.

Don’t Drill the Hills members said continued action by the city is needed, including rescinding the drilling leases on city property. 

“This moratorium, while a step in the right direction, is not nearly enough,” group members said in a statement. “Rescinding the lease sends the message that City Council really wants to change their position on gas and oil drilling.”

“The time to act was when this group approached you eight months ago, not today,” Oakland Township resident Joanna VanRaaphorst said. “This event here is a day late and a dollar short.”

The state Legislature is currently on recess and will reconvene Sept. 9, at which time they will consider a hearing on the proposed Senate bill, Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett said. 

“This has been an ongoing community issue, and the City Council’s unanimous support of the resolution will hopefully provide adequate time to allow the state legislative process to consider Senate Bill 1026,” Barnett said in a statement. 

“This, for the first time, is a potential piece of legislation which could help restore some control back to the locals, to the community and to their elected officials,” Rochester Hills City Attorney John Staran said.