Drilling ordinances ban fracking

By: Linda Shepard | Rochester Post | Published May 26, 2015

 (Infographic by thinkstockphotos)

(Infographic by thinkstockphotos)


ROCHESTER HILLS — A ban on hydraulic fracturing is included in new city ordinances addressing pipelines and oil and gas drilling.

Hydraulic fracturing — commonly known as fracking — is the pumping or injecting of a mixture of water, sand and chemicals under pressure into an oil or gas formation.

The ordinances state that new oil or gas wells can’t be located closer than 1,000 feet from a residential dwelling, a place of worship, a school, a hospital, a child care center or a public park, or 330 feet from an adjoining property line. Monthly groundwater monitoring is required. 

Gas and oil drilling has been a subject of controversy in the city, and the resident group Don’t Drill the Hills has been vocal in its opposition. Group members say they have concerns about drilling in respect to property rights, property values, environmental risks, insurance complications, tanker traffic, and transparency in the drilling and lease process. The group also  objects to oil and gas leases that have been allowed on three city properties.

By a 5-1 vote May 18, the Rochester Hills City Council approved the new ordinances.

“This has been a very long road, and a lot of people have spent a lot of time on this,” Councilman Adam Kochenderfer said. “My goal at the end of the day is to have us pass the strongest ordinance possible that is legally enforceable. I do think it is enforceable.”

Only City Council President Greg Hooper voted against approval of the new ordinances. Councilman Kevin Brown was absent from the meeting.

Monthly monitoring of groundwater at the well sites “is unrealistic and arbitrary,” Hooper said. “It will never be enforced.”

Hooper said the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality requires monitoring every six months.

“That pokes a major hole in our ordinance,” he said.

He also said a city drilling moratorium is currently in place. “A moratorium prohibits gas and oil drilling,” Hooper said. “So there is no rush.”

According to West Bay Exploration Co. officials, approximately 400 city residents in eight neighborhoods near Tienken Road have signed leases with West Bay for gas and oil drilling on their properties.

City officials have signed gas and oil drilling leases with West Bay 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.

Don’t Drill the Hills filed a lawsuit against the city and Jordan Development Co. in May 2014, opposing the oil and gas drilling leases on city property. Finding no violation of the city charter, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge James Alexander dismissed the charges in November, and DDHI is currently appealing the ruling.

Several members of DDHI spoke in opposition to the new ordinances.

“When we pass the ordinances, the moratorium goes away,” DDHI member Erin Howlett said. “So you really need to know what you are approving. The life of a well can be 10, 20, 30 years.”

“If we were needing oil, this would be a totally different deal,” DDHI member Mike Powers said. “But we don’t need it. The world is awash in oil.”

According to the new ordinances, violations will be civil infractions punishable by a civil fine of not more than $500.

“It is important we keep moving on this,” Councilwoman Stephanie Morita said. “It is not something we can sit still on. I personally feel safer with an ordinance that is in place.

“Is it a perfect ordinance? I don’t think there is such a thing,” Morita said. “Every ordinance on the books is subject to interpretation, and that interpretation changes over time — which is why we have to constantly amend our ordinances.”