Southfield church meeting discusses oil drilling impact

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Southfield — As the state considers a permit application for oil drilling at a Southfield church, residents packed a library auditorium Wednesday night to learn more about the potential environmental effectst

“We have to make sure you’re doing it in areas that aren’t going to impact people living their everyday lives,” said Jim Nash, Oakland County Water Resources commissioner who provided information on oil and gas exploration and drilling.

The meeting came as the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality considers a permit application from Traverse City-based oil and gas exploration company Jordan Development to dig a 2,900-foot oil well on the church’s 110-acre site at Evergreen and Nine Mile. Representatives from the state agency and Jordan said they were not invited to participate in the meeting.

The company and the church, whose pastor is the Rev. Keith Butler, agreed to an oil and gas lease.

“ ... This has no place in a residential community,” Southfield Mayor Kenson Siver said during the meeting Wednesday. “We are going to fight this.”

Siver said the issue is not about the church. “This is about drilling,” he said.

State Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, who hosted the town hall meeting at the Southfield Public Library, announced that on Wednesday he introduced House Bill 5258 to amend the natural resources and environmental protection act.

The bill requires that a permit not be issued for oil or gas well drilling in a county with a population of 750,000 or more unless the proposed well is located at least 2,000 feet from a residential building and that the MDEQ hold a public hearing.

The bill also calls for the proposed well to be in compliance with local ordinances, which Moss said “has been the crux of the issue, I think, that has really amplified here in Southfield that that moratorium is currently existing,” referring to a moratorium in effect until April 28 on oil and gas extraction and mining operations in the city.

The city is preparing to seek an injunction if the state issues a permit, said City Attorney Sue Ward.

Roger Goolsby, a 30-year Southfield resident, was among the more than 300 people Wednesday concerned with the impact drilling will have on the city. “I don’t want to see something implemented that would be harmful,” he said. “I’m afraid if one starts drilling, others will follow suit.”

The state Department of Environmental Quality extended its deadline to make a decision due to the high level of interest, said Hal Fitch, chief of the Office of Oil Gas and Minerals with the department. He said his office received 1,500 emails in favor of the project and about 200 emails and calls from those opposed to it.

The department will hold a public hearing Feb. 17 at Southfield City Hall, Fitch said.

Earlier Wednesday, Ben Brower, a vice president of Jordan Development, said the company cares about the environment. He said the company will not be hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

“When we drill wells, we’re very conscious of environmental things,” he said. “This is our business so we do this all the time. We have a good track record with the state of Michigan. ... If the facts were given out I think people would not be so fearful of what we’re doing.”

Brower said that as the property owner, the church has a right to minerals on their land. “The church is excited to see if there are minerals,” he said.