City passes ordinance regulating oil and gas wells

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published May 4, 2016

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SOUTHFIELD — The City Council unanimously approved an ordinance recently to permit oil and gas wells and oil and gas development activities only as a special use in the industrial zoning district. 

Council voted 7-0 at the April 25 council meeting to approve the ordinance. Previously, the council approved a 180-day moratorium on oil and gas extraction and mining operations in Southfield, which expired April 28.

The city’s decision comes in the thick of a legal battle with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Jordan Development Co., which plans to drill an exploratory well on the property of Word of Faith International Church, 20000 W. Nine Mile Road.

According to a statement in a previous report from Jordan Development Co., a privately owned oil and gas exploration and development company, the company entered into an agreement with the church to explore for oil and gas on part of the church’s 110-acre property. The company filed for a permit with the MDEQ late last year.

After adamant opposition from city officials, protests from residents and several informational meetings, officials from the MDEQ announced March 8 that they had granted a permit to Jordan Development to drill on a piece of land at the church.

In addition to a moratorium on oil and gas drilling in Southfield, City Planner Terry Croad said previously that the city opposed the permit application because the proposed well would be located within a residential area, as well as a wetland.

At the meeting April 25, City Attorney Sue Ward-Witkowski said the ordinance limits oil and gas drilling to industrial districts only.

“In a residential area, it’s just not appropriate. It’s not appropriate for people to be living next door to this situation, and so that is exactly what the ordinance is intended to do is put this into an industrial district as a special use where council can look at it,” Ward-Witkowski said at the meeting. “They can look at each request and say, ‘Is this an appropriate location for this? Is this in the best interest (of) the public health, safety and welfare?’ So that’s exactly where the intent of the ordinance is derived.”

In March, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Michael Warren approved a temporary restraining order filed by the city against the MDEQ after the organization approved the permit. The TRO remained in effect until a legal hearing in front of Warren on March 16.

During the hearing, Warren dismissed the city’s case against the MDEQ, deciding that the Oakland County Circuit Court is not the proper place for the city to file a suit against the MDEQ. Instead, the city should file in Ingham County, which handles claims against the MDEQ.

Attorneys on both sides reached an agreement at the March hearing to not move forward with drilling the well until a decision on the case is made by the court, which is expected in September.

“Oil and gas wells have no place in our neighborhoods,” Southfield Mayor Ken Siver said in a news release. “I applaud the Southfield City Council for adopting and enacting this ordinance, which keeps these activities out of residential areas. The city’s utmost concern remains the public’s health, safety and welfare, and this ordinance will serve the best interest of our residents.”

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