August 25, 2014 at 10:37 pm

Oil drilling operation shuts down 'indefinitely' in Shelby Twp.

The company responsible for a controversial test oil well near homes in Shelby Township said Monday it will shut down its operation there “indefinitely.”

Nearly 700 people appeared at a public information meeting Wednesday to oppose West Bay Exploration’s plans to drill for oil near a residential neighborhood. A test well, just north of the 25 Mile-Dequindre intersection, sits less than 500 feet from some properties.

The day before, Shelby Township’s Board of Trustees had approved a six-month moratorium on oil drilling in the township that West Bay didn’t think would be enforceable.

“West Bay will shut down drilling operations in Shelby Township indefinitely by the end of this week,” West Bay Vice President Patrick Gibson said in a statement released Monday. “Our goal is to be a good partner in the community, and it is clear that we need to work with neighbors and state officials to address concerns that are being raised before moving forward.”

In a phone interview later Monday, Gibson said the test drilling at the site that began Friday would continue through the week to get the site ready for being shut down in the coming weeks.

A delay in the project opens the door for state lawmakers representing Shelby Township to try to pass new legislation addressing residential drilling.

Last week, state Sen. Jack Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township, said he has introduced a bill that would prohibit mining and drilling in any township with a population above 70,000. State Rep. Peter Lund, R-Shelby Township, is working on a similar piece of legislation for introduction in the House.

Traverse City-based West Bay has several drilling projects underway in southeast Michigan that have drawn opposition. Scio Township officials near Ann Arbor last week passed a similar six-month moratorium on drilling projects.

Shelby Township Supervisor Rick Stathakis said while he appreciates West Bay’s decision to postpone operations, he will continue to try to outlaw residential drilling.

“My belief all along has been that industrial activities like oil/gas exploration do not have any place in residentially zoned neighborhoods, particularly those in densely populated communities like Shelby Township,” Stathakis said in a Monday statement.

Jim Mattison is president of the neighborhood’s homeowners association in a development that backs up to the site of West Bay’s test well. Mattison was initially enthusiastic about West Bay’s announcement on suspending operations, but later became somewhat leery.

“Sounds like we raised enough havoc that they realize we’re not going to back down ... ,” he said. “But it sounds like they’re not walking away — they’re just shutting it down for now.”

Like Mattison, Lund sees the issue as far from settled.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but we’re not taking our eyes off the issue,” he said. “We’re not letting our guard down.”

On Monday, Brandenbrurg credited West Bay officials for their decision.

“Like all of us have done in the past, I believe West Bay made an error in judgment,” he said in a press release. “When all is said and done I know they truly want to be a partner in resolving the issue of urbanized drilling to avoid similar situations in the future.

jlynch@detroitnews.com
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