SCIO TOWNSHIP — Several Washtenaw County legislators have added their voices to the growing public opposition to oil and gas drilling in Scio Township. State Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor), state Rep. Gretchen Driskell (D-Saline) and state Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) have joined to submit a public comment to the state Supervisor of Wells, calling for the permit for an exploratory well to be denied or delayed.
“Citizens are concerned about the impact of drilling on the nearby Huron River, about truck traffic and about preserving the recreational uses of the area. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) should take the necessary time to answer the legitimate questions and concerns raised by citizens and local government,” Warren said. “There is no reason to fast-track these permits when there are still so many unanswered questions about the impact on our community.”
Last month, Driskell moderated a forum attended by more than 300 people, the vast majority of whom attended to express concern and opposition to the proposed drilling. She pointed out that Scio residents concerned about drilling in their neighborhoods are just getting up to speed on oil and gas laws, and stressed that the state should be cautious. “The drilling company, West Bay, committed at the public forum to refrain from hydro-fracking; we need to get that commitment in writing,” Driskell said.
DEQ is currently soliciting comments on permit applications to drill for oil and gas in Scio Township. West Bay Exploration Company (permit application number AI40053) has signed about 75 leases in Scio Township, covering about 1,000 acres. If the supervisor of wells agrees, even residents who have not signed leases could still be forced to allow drilling on their land, under Michigan’s compulsory pooling rule. Comments from the public should be sent to DEQ-OilandGasPermitApplications@michigan.gov.
Because of a 2011 law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature, municipalities have an uphill battle in restricting extraction operations. Instead of requiring drillers to prove their operation is safe, the law places the onus on local governments to show that drilling will definitely have “very serious consequences.” However, the supervisor of wells at the DEQ still has the authority to reject or delay a permit application, or to demand further safeguards.
Irwin, who also attended the forum, reiterated the rationale for caution with these permits. “This is a heavily populated area close to one of Michigan’s designated Natural Rivers, and there are many unanswered questions,” said Irwin. “How will the industry deal with heavy truck traffic on the dirt roads? What precautions exist to keep industrial activity away from recreation areas, and to protect the Huron River, which is the drinking water source for Ann Arbor? These permits should be denied or delayed until the industry can address the health, safety and quality-of-life concerns of local citizens.”
The three lawmakers also issued the following letter of public comment to the MDEQ regarding West Bay’s permit application AI40053:
“We are writing today to ask the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to deny permit application #AI40053 (Wing Well 1-15, NW of intersection of W. Delhi Road and Miller Road) for oil exploration by West Bay Exploration in Scio Township. As proposed, this project would pose several threats to the local environment and would significantly diminish the peaceful quality of life that Scio Township residents currently enjoy.
“The detrimental impact that oil drilling would have on both our public health and our natural resources is something that must be considered — even at this early, exploratory stage in the process. Before your agency issues any final decisions regarding widespread oil drilling in Scio Township, we strongly urge the DEQ to carry out a cumulative environmental impact assessment to determine both the short-term and long-term effects this proposal would impose upon our land, water and air.
“The area being considered under permit application #AI40053 is within one mile of the Huron River, which provides drinking water to 85 percent of Ann Arbor residents, and within two miles of the Ann Arbor city limits. By allowing this project to move forward the DEQ would be potentially compromising the health and well-being of nearly 150,000 Michigan residents. Oil drilling can have numerous detrimental effects including the release of hazardous substances like silica dust into the environment, harmful changes to ground and surface water quality and quantity, various disturbances associated with natural gas flaring and noise pollution that inevitably comes with heavy truck traffic.
“Once again, we ask you to reject permit application #AI40053 in order to protect the vast natural resources that exist in Scio Township as well as the health and well-being of residents living in close proximity to the proposed drilling area. We encourage the DEQ to take the necessary time to ensure that permit applicants are doing everything practicable to minimize impacts on fragile roadways, neighboring property owners and the number of recreation facilities within walking distance of the proposed exploration.”
Sen. Rebekah Warren, 18th District
Rep. Gretchen Driskell 52nd District
Rep. Jeff Irwin 53rd District