Twp. Board wells up support for drilling moratorium

By: Eric Czarnik | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published August 28, 2012


WEST BLOOMFIELD — The township Board of Trustees greased the way toward enacting plans to regulate local oil and natural gas drilling by passing a temporary moratorium on such operations Aug. 20.

The board voted unanimously to pass a moratorium resolution that would temporarily block drilling operations from occurring in West Bloomfield.

The moratorium will take effect Sept. 1 and last through Feb. 28, 2013. During that time, drilling operations may not take place, and township officials may not consider, review or act on related applications, requests or proposals. The moratorium provides a forum for property owners and businesses to air relevant grievances before the township board.

According to West Bloomfield officials, a May mineral rights auction by the Department of Natural Resources spurred a closer look at possible regulations.

Anti-drilling activists are particularly fearful of a procedure called hydraulic fracturing — also known as fracking — that attempts to extract minerals by injecting fluids into the earth. Some officials believe that this technique and other extraction methods could have deleterious effects on the environment.

Clerk Cathy Shaughnessy said it is astounding how much “fracking” is going on in Oakland County.

“We are doing the right thing,” she said. “Let’s try to move quickly and get it right.”

According to a memo from Township Attorney Derk Beckerleg, the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act poses an obstacle because it limits the township’s power to prevent companies from drilling for oil or gas, operating wells and exploring or extracting the resources in many circumstances.

An exception under that act exists that would allow the prohibition of mining of natural resources when such a process would cause “very serious consequences,” he said.

In addition, Beckerleg said, the township has limited authority in the case of mining to regulate auxiliary matters, such as odors, hours of operations, noise levels and traffic.

The attorney advised the board that it could enact a short-term moratorium on drilling operations until the township board can vote on a drafted ordinance to restrict mineral extraction to the degree it legally can.

Although the original resolution draft called for a one-year moratorium, Beckerleg pointed out that the shorter the moratorium, the more likely that it would stand in court if challenged. “I would suggest six months maybe as a happy medium,” he said.

Trustee Gene Farber said he felt strongly about the issue and proposed a 90-day moratorium so long as the township was ready to present and vote on an ordinance to restrict drilling in that time period. He later voted for the six-month moratorium.

Supervisor Michele Economou Ureste said the township has 160 acres of property housing minerals within its 32 square miles. She discussed an environmental argument for restricting mineral extraction in West Bloomfield.

“The one sure way to prevent fracking is by way of those regulated wetlands,” she said.

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