New drilling regs should quell fears

The Detroit News
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The Department of Environmental Quality has instituted new rules for oil and gas drilling that should ease the concerns about exploration around residential areas.

Although some resistance will inevitably remain, property owners have a right to access and profit from minerals on their land.

Some of the new rules that companies must follow include fully informing residents in a neighborhood where drilling is planned; setting times of operation and reducing noise and light caused by drilling; and installing at least one ground water well in the area to monitor for possible contamination of the water supply.

Michigan currently has a 300-foot buffer between residential structures and wells and the figure increases to 450 feet in townships that have more than 70,000 residents. The regulation was instituted in response to efforts by such communities as Rochester Hills, Shelby Township and Scio Township to put in place drilling moratoriums.

What local officials and residents may not realize is that such moratoriums can't block drilling completely. Communities under current state law can't prevent landowners from extracting minerals on their property.

"The bottom line is that the DEQ has always worked to protect natural resources," says Brad Wurfel, spokesman for the DEQ. "In this instance, we are taking additional steps to ensure that the industry is a good neighbor as individuals exercise their right to develop their minerals."

Wurfel notes the most noticeable aspect of operating an oil or gas well is the drilling portion, which only lasts about a month.

He says that in Oakland County about 300 wells have been quietly operating for the past 75 years, both in residential and business areas.

He adds there are more than 10,000 wells statewide and most are in rural areas where there hasn't been as much controversy.

Many residents favor drilling for both personal reasons and for the sake of the community. It can be a lucrative source of income for individuals, and it can add to the tax coffers of a municipality.

Also, companies don't have a free hand in drilling. Oil and gas exploration is the most regulated industrial process in Michigan. In overseeing the industry, the DEQ has taken the concerns of citizens into account.

Public sentiment carries considerable weight with governing bodies, particularly in local municipalities. But business decisions need to be made based on facts, not on emotions. The latter appears to have dominated in communities seeking moratoriums.

The DEQ is doing a good job of regulating the drilling industry while also being a public watchdog. No operation will be allowed if it poses a threat to public safety or the environment, Wurfel says.

The new regulations are an appropriate compromise.

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