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Shelby Township

August 4, 2014

Oil and gas company drills behind condos

By Sarah Wojcik
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
West Bay Exploration Co.’s oil rig hums as it sends its drill head into the earth July 28. To the right, dust rises as the splintered rocks and debris created by the drilling process are mixed with concrete for easier transportation to a landfill.
At 7 p.m. Aug. 7, a town hall meeting will take place at the township municipal building. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality requested to have a forum to discuss the oil exploration near 25 Mile and Dequindre roads, and Township Supervisor Rick Stathakis accepted. Township attorney Rob Huth will take part in the discussion on behalf of the township and its residents. Officials from West Bay Exploration Co. will also be on hand to provide in-depth information and participate in a question and answer session for all residents interested in the topic. The municipal building is located at 52700 Van Dyke Ave., south of 24 Mile Road. For more information, call the Supervisor’s Office at (586) 731-5154.

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Patrick Gibson, vice president of Traverse City-based West Bay Exploration Co., confirmed that the oil and gas company received a drilling permit for an approximately 1-acre property near 25 Mile and Dequindre roads.

Despite concern raised by nearby residents and the Briarwood Condominium Association, Gibson said the company would not use hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking,” or chemicals in the drilling process.

“This is conventional drilling, like we’ve done in Shelby Township since the first well in 1988 or 1989 — the same drilling technique used in the township over the last 25 or 30 years,” Gibson said.

Geologist Jack Lanigan, of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, said drilling began early in the morning July 26 and would last three weeks at the longest.

“When that’s all done, they’ll move the rig off the site and move in a smaller rig — or completion rig — to test if they can actually produce the well. West Bay is meticulous about testing wells. Testing could go on for a month or two,” Lanigan said.

Although he could not supply the number of total drill sites, Gibson said his company drilled five producing wells in Shelby Township and Utica. He added that West Bay is the operator, but the company is in partnership with Jordan Development Co. because of the economic risk associated with the possibility of not finding oil.

Initial data from thumper trucks and seismic testing in the last two to four years indicated a possibility of oil at the site behind the Briarwood Condominiums along the Trenton-Black River Formation, but Gibson said there is no way to know for sure until the company drills.

The process, he explained, involves inserting five concentric rings of steel casing and cement into the earth below the freshwater aquifer using freshwater, saltwater brine and natural bentonite clay.

“There will be a few trucks in and out during the drilling phase, which takes two to three weeks,” Gibson said. “Our location is back in some trees. I think it will not be very visible at all to anyone out there.”

Lanigan said he or another DEQ representative would be on-site to monitor activity at least every other day and more as needed. By press time, he said the company did not drill far enough to know if there was oil present at the location.

The permit allows a limit of 5,668 feet of directional drilling and a drilling depth limit of 5,200 feet. On July 29, Lanigan said he had visited the site that day and that crews had drilled a total length of about 1,150 feet, including 500 feet straight down with a 30-degree turn to the west, going at a rate of about a foot every two minutes.

If it struck oil, Gibson said West Bay would run pipeline to a yet-to-be-determined industrial location to clean and process the crude product.

Eric Graham, a Briarwood Condominium Association board member, said he was unaware of the drilling possibility until a neighbor alerted him. He voiced concern about the drilling process.

“Because a private landowner has the mineral rights, and West Bay is leasing the property to drill, nobody can do anything about it. It’s state-controlled,” Graham said.

Graham said he worried that the drilling location is near wetlands, a hike and bike trail that runs perpendicular to Dequindre Road and leads to Stony Creek Metropark, and a number of houses near the trail.

“Those people living in the houses will be impacted by hearing trucks and lights,” he said. “Laws have to be changed here. If they live 450 yards away, it’s enough where they don’t have to tell them anything.”

Lanigan said West Bay takes the same precautions with horizontal drilling as it does with vertical and that the permit specifically requires the construction to steer clear of the nearby wetlands. He added that mufflers kept the noise from the drill down.

He said he had had no problems with the way the site is being handled, except for the amount of dust created when crews mixed cement with splintered rocks and debris in steel tanks for the purpose of bringing them to a landfill.

Gibson said the dust concern has been taken care of and that his company has not had complaints from the neighborhood — only inquires as to the status of the well.

“(West Bay) is one of the better operators we run into,” Lanigan said. “They are conscious about keeping the public informed, limiting truck traffic as much as they can, and (they) keep a very neat and clean location.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at swojcik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1029.