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Troy city officials will gather more information on mineral extraction

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published September 23, 2015

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City leaders will wait to decide on regulating mineral extraction.

The Planning Commission and City Council listened to differing viewpoints at a joint special meeting Sept. 14.

After listening to Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash; Hal Fitch, chief of the gas, oil and mineral division of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality; and John Griffin, spokesman and lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, city leaders, by consensus, said they will wait before enacting an ordinance.

Griffin, Fitch and Nash said the ordinance the Planning Commission drafted was too restrictive.

“It’s obviously a very involved and complicated issue,” said City Planning Director Brent Savidant.

The City Council has final approval of ordinance changes.

Currently, gas and oil drilling and fracking are permitted anywhere in the city and are regulated by the MDEQ.

The Planning Commission initiated and unanimously voted to recommend that the City Council approve new ordinances regulating mineral extraction after a public hearing on the matter June 23.

The proposed ordinance would have regulated hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a type of drilling where fractures below the earth’s surface are opened and widened by injecting chemicals and liquids at high pressure.

The proposed ordinance would allow oil and gas drilling only on five-acre industrial business sites. It would prohibit drilling within 300 feet of a right of way; within 500 feet of homes, places of worship, hospitals and schools; and within 100 feet of any property line. Developers would be required to submit an operation plan outlining environmental impacts, which would be reviewed as a special use request on a case-by-case basis.

On May 18, the Rochester Hills City Council approved new ordinances stating 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 closer than 330 feet from an adjoining property line. The Rochester Hills ordinance requires monthly groundwater monitoring.

Fitch said that the state guidelines require 450-foot setbacks from homes — some of the highest requirements in the nation — and 40 acres on which to drill.

“If you impose too large of a setback it becomes too prohibitive. We’ve got a safe history. There’s not an instance of contamination of a water well. The big goal is to balance property rights with environmental protection.”

Fitch noted that the biggest impact is the drilling stage, which typically lasts three week and operates around the clock.

Fitch noted that the Department of Natural Resources denied a request to drill in ’91 that resulted in a $90 million court settlement.

Fitch said he saw a problem in the proposed ordinance in that it restricts drilling to the southern part of the city.

“I encourage you to take a look at that to see if that could incur liability,” he said.

“What you’re trying to do here is very positive,” Nash said. He suggested the city get guidance from www.flowforwater.org, which he said helps local governments develop policies that stand up in court. He noted that a developer that wanted to drill and was denied was awarded $800,000 from the city of Farmington Hills.

Nash said that one of the issues was air quality from leaking gas pipes.

“I’m not totally against drilling if done in a safe manner,” he said.

He said that over 99 percent of the wells in Oakland County have never been tested for contamination.

“You have a lot of power. … The issue is if you are limiting it, and there are some sites you can’t get to. You guys are taking hold of this issue and thinking it through — that’s fantastic.”

He said air quality and water quality are the biggest issues.

Griffin said that under the proposed Troy ordinance, a current drilling site at the MSU Management Education Center in Troy could not have been developed.

“It looks pretty restrictive,” he said of the proposed Troy ordinance. “Statewide regulation is best.”

Fitch said the area where Troy is located does not naturally lend itself to oil and gas drilling and that there is no hydraulic fracking in Oakland County.

City Attorney Lori Grigg-Bluhm said that if the city does enact an ordinance more restrictive than state guidelines, the city could possibly be sued.

“If (Troy is) not conducive to fracking, what is the harm in enacting the ordinance?” said Planning Commissioner Michael Huston.

Mayor Dane Slater said he was looking forward to reviewing legal documentation, information from www.flowforwater.org and from the city attorney.

“I’m not ready to vote on an ordinance change tonight,” he said.

The proposed ordinance will go back to the Planning Commission for further study.

“I don’t have a problem postponing this until November or December,” said Planning Commission Chair Donald Edmunds.

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