Oil well in Saline, Michigan. CC image credit: Dwight Burdette | Wikimedia Commons
A standing room-only crowd of more than 300 Scio Township residents packed a recent hearing at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District headquarters last Thursday to speak out about a proposal to drill for oil near the border with Ann Arbor. The hearing was hosted and moderated by State House Rep. Gretchen Driskell, former mayor of Saline.
West Bay Exploration out of Traverse City has already had several landowners signed contracts turning over drilling rights to the company. Attendees were nearly unanimous in their opposition to the drilling which many fear will lead to increased industrial traffic, noise, pollution, and contamination of wells and the nearby Huron River.
There are two things to note about this. First, it may be very difficult for local municipalities to stop the drilling. For the same reason that Lyndon Township officials are having difficulty fighting off a sand & gravel mine north of Chelsea (my coverage of that is HERE), Scio Township’s hands are largely tied thanks to a Republican-backed law passed in 2011:
Lyndon Township officials are fighting an unfair fight due to actions taken by Michigan Republicans soon after they took control of the state legislature in 2011. The original law that governs permitting of gravel mines such as this is the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act of 2006. This law shifted the burden of proving there will be no adverse impacts from a new operation away from the applicant for a zoning variance which allows activities to be conducted in a zoned area other than those specifically allowed by the local municipalities zoning regulations. Instead, the local municipality must prove that it WILL have an adverse impact. The law sets forth very specific and limited criteria for what can be used to deny a permit, criteria called “very serious consequences”. The municipality must prove that there will be a very serious consequence on one or more of the following:
- The relationship of extraction and associated activities with existing land uses.
- The impact on existing land uses in the vicinity of the property.
- The impact on property values in the vicinity of the property and along the proposed hauling route serving the property, based on credible evidence.
- The impact on pedestrian and traffic safety in the vicinity of the property and along the proposed hauling route serving the property.
- The impact on other identifiable health, safety, and welfare interests in the local unit of government.
- The overall public interest in the extraction of the specific natural resources on the property.
In 2010, a court case in Kasson Township in the Leelanau peninsula, Michigan’s “pinkie”, overturned this aspect of the law, putting the onus back on the permit applicant. In 2011, Republicans passed House Bill 4746, once again putting the burden back on municipalities.
The Lyndon mine could result in as many as 80 gravel trucks a day, 6 days a week rumbling through the middle of downtown Chelsea and back again.
The other point is that landowners that do NOT sign contracts may still end up having their mineral rights assigned to the drilling company anyway. From MLive’s reporting:
If a company is able to procure leases from a number of property owners in an area but does not have the required acreage to drill a well, the state supervisor of wells can issue a compulsory pooling order on the remaining mineral rights.
According to local residents who are fighting the plan, the drilling would take place less than 10 minutes from downtown Ann Arbor and right next to the Huron River, which provides Ann Arbor’s water supply. West Bay Exploration has leased the mineral rights for substantial property on Miller Road and Ann Arbor-Dexter Road, from West Delhi to Zeeb (owned by a popular pumpkin farm).
Here are some suggestions from opposition group on what steps you can take:
- Share this information. Tell everyone, because, in our experience, most people in town don’t know this yet because the oil companies did this quietly and quickly. Here are links to two stories in the A2 News:
- We are involved with a group of concerned citizens, under the name Scio Mineral Rights, who are trying to learn more about this and to educate others. We understand why some farming families may wish to sign away their rights, but we aren’t certain that they are being told the full truth, and we know from some of them directly that they most certainly have been pressured and persuaded. Please check these groups out online or on Facebook:
- Call Gov. Snyder’s office and tell him how you feel about this. Many people understandably feel this is ineffective. However, if done in large-enough numbers, it establishes that the citizenry took the appropriate step of contacting their state government (which, again, is in charge of regulating oil leasing and drilling) and establishes that the citizens of the town Snyder calls home don’t want this to happen, so it’s an important piece of fighting back.
- Contact your city councilmember (a list is HERE.)
- Contact Yousef Rabhi, the Chair of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners ([email protected] or 734-548-5159).
On a positive note, the drilling company will NOT be fracking on this site and has agreed to stipulate that in its contracts.
UPDATE: The folks behind No-Drill.com will send you a free 4-inch sticker like the one on the right. Stickers will be sent to any Eclectablog reader who visits NO-Drill.com and requests a sticker via their email address. They will send 1 sticker per request and will cover postage. If you would like more you may purchase via PayPal. Bulk discounts are available via email as well.