August 26, 2014 at 9:45 pm

Rochester Hills council enacts moratorium on oil drilling

City joins Shelby, Scio townships with moratorium

Rochester Hills became the third southeast Michigan community in a week to enact a moratorium on drilling, a move designed to halt progress on a proposed oil well as state legislators write bills to better regulate where such projects can be sited.

The Oakland County city has been eyed as a possible site for oil production by exploration companies in the last year. The specter of oil development there has been a cause for worry among many of the residents.

During a Tuesday special meeting, Rochester Hills City Council voted to enact a moratorium on oil and gas well, similar to moves made recently by Shelby and Scio townships.

Rochester Hills Council President Greg Hooper said he hopes a moratorium will buy enough time for state law to be changed, limiting where oil and gas wells can be located. An initial proposal, crafted by state Sen. Jack Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township, seeks to protect residential areas by prohibiting mining and drilling in any township with a population above 70,000.

“For us, (Brandeburg’s bill) is a game changer,” Hooper said.

Republican state Rep. Peter Lund represents Shelby Township, where Traverse City-based West Bay Exploration Co. recently agreed to halt work on a test well located less than 500 feet from residential properties. He plans his own bill that lowers the population number to communities with populations of at least 20,000.

“I think more townships should have the ability to do this ...,” Lund said. “We want to make sure we draw up the proper legislation to solve this problem for the long run.”

The Lund idea might be welcome in a place like Scio Township, with a population hovering near the 20,000 mark. Last week, the township passed a six-month moratorium on drilling, but West Bay Exploration has continued to drill at its site there. The company is working to reach its target depth before a test well can be started.

Don’t Drill the Hills, a nonprofit group opposing the drilling plans in Rochester Hills, issued a Tuesday statement taking local officials to task for dealing with the oil companies out of the public spotlight.

“While DDHI welcomes the idea of a moratorium, a larger concern is the city’s willful subversion of the law,” the statement reads. “DDHI is currently in litigation against the city alleging violations of the city’s charter and the Michigan Home Rule City Act because it signed a lease with Jordan allowing horizontal drilling under local parks and a city cemetery, and for granting Sunoco an easement for transporting oil through Bloomer Park.

“Both the city’s charter and Michigan statute require a public vote on such an issue.”