MDEQ to host public meeting on church oil drilling

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published February 9, 2016

 Residents gather in the cold outside the church to protest Jan. 17.

Residents gather in the cold outside the church to protest Jan. 17.

Photo by Sarah Purlee

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SOUTHFIELD — Residents with questions on a proposed oil well at Word of Faith International Christian Center are invited to partake in a public meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 17 in the Southfield High School auditorium, 24675 Lahser 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 has entered into an agreement with the church, 20000 W. Nine Mile Road, to explore for oil and gas on part of the church’s 110-acre property.

City Community Relations Director Michael Manion said in a news release that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has still not made a decision on Jordan Development’s application with the city and is seeking public input on the matter.

Residents are encouraged to attend the meeting, as the MDEQ Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals will conduct the meeting and will solicit public comment on the application; OOGM officials will also provide information on the proposed well and give a brief overview of regulatory requirements, Manion said.

The meeting was slated to be held in the council chambers at Southfield City Hall, 26000 Evergreen Road, but a representative for the MDEQ said it was moved to Southfield High School to accommodate an expected high level of attendees. The auditorium at Southfield High can hold up to 800 people.

Jordan Development Co. Vice President Ben Brower said in a previous report that his company believes there is some oil and gas on the property, and the only way to find out is to drill a well.

The release said that the proposed well would be located in the dense woods behind the church, away from residents and other property owners. The well would be 3,000 feet deep, and the entire process would take about two weeks, Brower said.

The well would not be hydraulically fractured, the statement, Brower and Hal Fitch, chief of the Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals at the MDEQ, all said previously.

However, City Planner Terry Croad said in November that the city of Southfield had extended a 180-day moratorium on oil and gas extraction and mining operations at its Oct. 19 meeting. The extension was approved  unanimously.

Since then, the city has released several statements opposing the drilling proposal, and officials said in a release that they have requested additional information and analysis  from the MDEQ in an effort to deny the drilling.

In a press release, Manion said the city is asking for information on how the well would impact nearby residential water wells, endangered species, the environment and air quality, and how the applicant would prevent waste.

In a previous report, City Administrator Fred Zorn expressed concerns about the MDEQ’s review process and said the city is attempting to work with the MDEQ to address residents’ concerns about the proposed well.

Southfield Mayor Kenson Siver said the city continues to strongly disapprove of the permit application.

“Drilling for oil and gas — no matter how safe Jordan Development claims — is totally incompatible with a residential area,” Siver said. “The city’s utmost concern is the public’s health, safety and welfare, and we remain committed to act in the best interest of our residents.”

On Jan. 27, residents showed up in droves for a presentation from state Rep. Jeremy Moss and Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash at the Southfield Public Library.

A long line of attendees snaked through the library lobby before the 6 p.m. presentation. Of the approximately 500 people who showed up, only about half were able to find a seat or a spot to stand along the wall in the library’s auditorium.

Angered residents have also taken it upon themselves to protest outside the church each Sunday morning.

The public meeting is not being held as a requirement of any state statute, Manion said. He said Moss was instrumental in convincing the MDEQ to hold the meeting.

“This is not in state law. There’s no part of official protocol (that says) they need to have a public hearing,” Moss said. “At my request, they are holding a public hearing. I want them to understand the local mood and local outcry that I’m hearing at my office, rather than just going by the book and issuing the permit without any local input.”

At the Jan. 27 meeting, Moss introduced House Bill 5258, which would restrict oil and gas drilling in residential areas.

Specifically, the bill would prohibit a permit from being granted in a county with a population of 750,000 or more unless the proposed well is located 2,000 feet from a residential building; the location and operation of the proposed well is in compliance with local ordinances; the MDEQ has held a public hearing in the city, village or township in which the proposed well is located; and public opinion is considered.

Moss said both Democrats and Republicans support the bill.

“As oil and gas drilling gets closer and closer and closer to populated areas, it’s become a nonpartisan issue of concern,” Moss said recently. “We’ve seen this play out in Shelby (Township), play out in Rochester Hills — sponsors include a Republican representative from Shelby Township. I’m asking others to join me as a way to say ‘slow down’ before we get into uncharted territory. This has become a call to the DEQ to really scrutinize these projects, and it’s not me as a Democrat complaining to a Republican. It’s me as a Southfield resident trying to paint the picture on the ground of what it looks like in my community.”

Fitch said MDEQ officials hear residents’ concerns loud and clear, but are in a position to hear both sides of the story before they either approve or deny the church’s application.

“We don’t override (the city’s moratorium), but we can’t be in a position to enforce it either — we have no hand in that. That would be up to the city to defend their moratorium,” he said. “What I’m saying is our permit doesn’t excuse (the city) from any other local regulations or federal or state regulations.”

Fitch said previously that the MDEQ recognizes citizens’ concerns and has been keeping track of positive and negative feedback from the community.

Several residents said they are worried about how the MDEQ will handle the issue because of the MDEQ’s role in the Flint water crisis. Fingers have been pointed at the organization for its role in the crisis.

Word of Faith Minister Andrea Simpson said the church is glad the MDEQ is hosting a meeting.

“I believe they will provide the answers that many are looking for. Although there is some concern about the Flint water issue, I believe the MDEQ has a good track record regarding oil drilling in Michigan, and we do not expect any problems whatsoever,” Simpson said in an email.

Simpson also said that she hopes the meeting will curb residents’ fears about oil drilling in their city.

“It’s my hope that the MDEQ will put to rest the fears and concerns of those opposed, and will grant Jordan Development and Word of Faith the permit for us to drill on our own property,” Simpson said. “We are looking forward to working with our community members.”

Residents who are unable to attend the meeting may submit their comments by email to DEQ-OilAndGasPermitApplications@michigan.gov, or by mail to DEQ-OOGM, P.O. Box 30256, Lansing, MI 48909-7756, by Feb. 19.

A copy of the Word of Faith application can be downloaded at http://www.michigan.gov/deq/.

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