Oil and gas company to halt drilling behind neighborhood indefinitely
By Sarah Wojcik
August 26, 2014
On Aug. 25, West Bay Exploration Co. announced that it would shut down its drilling operation at 25 Mile and Dequindre roads by the end of the week due to the strong objections of residents living directly behind the well site.
According to West Bay’s press release, Gov. Rick Snyder, state Sen. Jack Brandenburg and state Rep. Peter Lund urged the measure after public concerns escalated the past week over drilling in a residential area.
Township Supervisor Rick Stathakis called the move a step in the right direction. At press time, he said a newly created group of township officials and residents called NURD (No Urban Residential Drilling) was set to meet with Snyder’s representatives to discuss how to prevent future drilling in residents’ backyards Aug. 28.
“This is certainly great news and I can’t be more excited for the residents at 25 Mile and Dequindre roads who worked tirelessly with state and local people,” Stathakis said. “Oil and gas exploration don’t have a place in the backyard of residents.”
Residents of Shelby Township, Rochester and neighboring communities came out in droves at an informational town hall meeting with DEQ geologist and area supervisor Jack Lanigan Aug. 7, a board meeting Aug. 19 and an emergency town hall meeting at the Palazzo Grande with environmental consultant Christopher Grobbel and West Bay officials Aug. 20.
The Board of Trustees also passed a six-month moratorium on future residential oil drilling operations in the township Aug. 19. Township Attorney Rob Huth, a resident of Creekside Village subdivision whose backyard abuts the well site, said he felt the moratorium would withstand challenges because the township could illustrate the damaging effect the drilling had on residents.
On Aug. 25, Patrick Gibson, vice president of West Bay, said crews had a few things to do to the well to get it temporarily plugged by the end of the week and would then begin removing equipment.
“We’ll probably have a security fence around (the well site) now and that’s going to be all the activity until we spend some time working with the neighbors adjacent to the site in coming up with a solution about how we can all occupy that space together that makes sense,” Gibson said.
He said the backlash from Shelby Township residents was likely the most extreme he’s experienced. He said West Bay has been drilling in the township for 30 years, but because the operation is now so close to residences, people are more aware.
Gibson said he did not have a timeline for how long West Bay would suspend its drilling endeavors, but that officials would let things “cool down” for a week or so and then come down from Traverse City to meet with residents and engage in open dialogue.
He said West Bay did not yet know if the well would produce oil, but that the company would put off further testing to spend some time in the community addressing residents’ concerns.
“We’ve been good neighbors in Shelby Township for 30 years,” Gibson said. “We’ll get it all worked out.”
Jennifer Panos, who also lives in Creekside Village, said halting the process indefinitely was a start, but that the community needs to keep pushing to draw more attention to the issue and encourage support of state Sen. Jack Brandenburg’s Senate Bill 1026, which would prohibit oil and gas wells in cities or townships with populations of 70,000 or more, “except in certain circumstances.”
“We’re just so angry that this was allowed to happen,” Panos said. “I don’t want West Bay to make a decision to halt it indefinitely and let emotions settle down and people get back into their regular lives and then, after the November election, start this all back up again.”
She said she did not want oil drilling in her neighborhood or any neighborhood and that she felt betrayed as a homeowner and a taxpayer that industrial oil drilling was allowed by the state in a residentially zoned area.
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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