Judge dismisses city’s case against oil and gas drilling

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published July 27, 2016

 Rosemerry Allen, of Southfield, sits in the crowd during the public hearing.

Rosemerry Allen, of Southfield, sits in the crowd during the public hearing.

File photo by Donna Agusti


SOUTHFIELD — Judge Michael Warren, of the Oakland County Circuit Court, issued an opinion July 11 dismissing the city’s case opposing oil and gas drilling within the city.

The subject of oil and gas drilling in the city has been a hot topic this year. In March, Warren dismissed a lawsuit filed by the city of Southfield against the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for approving a permit application for Jordan Development Co. to drill an exploratory well at Word of Faith International Church, 20000 W. Nine Mile Road.

Warren decided to also throw out the city’s case against Jordan Development and Word of Faith, in a motion for summary disposition that ends the case without a trial.

In court July 6, attorney Michael Cox, representing Jordan Development and Word of Faith, argued that the case should be dismissed because the state supervisor of wells should decide on where wells should be placed, not cities.

“As we put in our papers, we are seeking dismissal of this complaint and an underlying emergency ordinance during the course of this litigation because the city of Southfield has engaged in an impermissible attempt to undermine and substitute its judgment for the legislative judgment here,” Cox said.

Attorney Anne McLaughlin, representing Southfield, argued that the judge should uphold the city’s zoning ordinance that states drilling is not permitted in a residential district, which is where Word of Faith is located.

In his opinion, Warren stated that the city’s attempt to block drilling in the city is unconstitutional, referring to the state Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act’s Part 615.

The act gives the state supervisor of wells — who is part of the DEQ — the authority to regulate oil and gas development.

Warren also ruled that the city’s attempt at a zoning ordinance to block drilling in residential areas was unconstitutional.

“Put simply, Southfield’s zoning ordinances go far beyond making recommendations, and directly conflict with Southfield’s limited statutory role under Part 615,” Warren said in the opinion.

The judge’s ruling resolved the last pending claim and closed the case.

“Moreover, Southfield’s cursory attempt to salvage these regulations in no manner withstands the strong weight and thorough argument of the defendants in connection with Part 615’s direct conflict and pre-emption analysis supra,” Warren said in the opinion.

City Attorney Sue Ward-Witkowski said at the July 18 City Council meeting that her team and city officials are disappointed in the ruling.

“We think it’s an opinion that shouldn’t stand. I think every city in the state of Michigan should be concerned because, in essence, now the state will be in position (where) the supervisor of wells can say where these things are located, and I guess if it’s in someone’s backyard or it’s a school, apparently the cities have no option and no power to do anything about it,” she said at the meeting.

Ward-Witkowski said the city is currently in the process of filing an appeal.

Mayor Ken Siver also expressed disappointment in the judge’s ruling.

“Our case has been based on local control, and local control includes zoning, and again, there is long-standing case law to support (the) city’s right to zone and determine what is appropriate use in a given zone,” Siver said. “In Southfield, oil and gas extraction in a residential zone is inappropriate.”