Southfield vows to fight drilling project’s approval

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Southfield — Southfield officials vowed Tuesday to fight a decision by the state Department of Environmental Quality to approve a permit for a controversial plan to drill on the property of a Southfield church.

Traverse City-based oil and gas exploration company Jordan Development could begin drilling as early as next week on Word of Faith church’s 110-acre site at Evergreen and Nine Mile.

On Tuesday, the city administration said it will request a temporary restraining order through Oakland County Circuit Court to stop the drilling if necessary.

The company and the church, whose pastor is the Rev. Keith Butler, agreed to an oil and gas lease. Ben Brower, a vice president of Jordan Development, has said the church is eager to see if there are minerals on the property.

The plan to dig a 2,900-foot oil well sparked outrage from hundreds of residents concerned about noise and environmental issues.

“This permit application was reviewed thoroughly to ensure all legal requirements were met and proper consideration was given due to the close proximity of surrounding houses,” Hal Fitch, chief of the DEQ’s Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals, said in a statement Tuesday. “We extended our review period and reached out to the community because we wanted to look closely at this permit request.”

A public hearing on the issue last month drew 1,000 residents and church members. The city of Southfield also has spoken out against the proposed drilling.

Fitch said the project meets all statutory and legal requirements, and therefore the agency is obligated to grant the permit.

A number of conditions have been placed on the project, Fitch said. Among them:

■Hospital grade mufflers must be used on drill rig engines to minimize noise.

■Lights on the drill rig must be shielded to prevent unnecessary light from being directed toward homes.

■Fencing must be in place during drilling to prevent unauthorized access.

“Our job is to strike the proper balance between respecting property rights and protecting people’s quality of life,” Fitch said.

Brower said his company will also be required to perform ground water testing.

“All of these are a significant cost,” he said. “We will figure out a way to comply.”

Brower said that is possible that residents will not even notice the work.

“It’s the fear of the unknown,” he said. “People think it will be disruptive to their lives.”

Mayor Ken Siver was unavailable for comment Tuesday afternoon. The city has a moratorium in effect until April 28 on oil and gas extraction and mining operations in the city.

City officials said a request Jan. 19 for additional information about the project has gone unanswered “despite MDEQ’s assurances that it would be prior to any decision.”

State Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, said he supports the city administration’s stance against the project. In January, Moss introduced House Bill 5258 to amend the natural resources and environmental protection act.

“We’ve not seen this type of activity in a densely populated area,” he said. “I’m surprised they didn’t see the strong outcry from residents that came out in opposition to this project. Southfield is not under emergency management ... I’m standing with the city to have the ability to govern over itself. There have been so many issues of the state making decisions against cities’ wishes.”

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