MI Tightens Residential Drilling

Monday, February 16, 2015 @ 04:02 PM gHale

Oil and gas drilling in highly populated residential areas will require more protections for neighbors under new instructions unveiled last week by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) Supervisor of Wells.

Residents of metro Detroit townships — like Shelby and Scio — who already have endured round-the-clock noise, bright lights and other nuisances from oil well construction near their homes last summer said the regulatory changes don’t do enough to protect communities.

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DEQ’s new instructions for oil and gas developers include requirements to provide notice to local governments before projects commence, groundwater monitoring, containing drill cuttings and fluids in tanks, noise reduction and ceasing drilling-related truck traffic during overnight hours.

However, the new regulation only applies in a county with a population of 750,000 people or more. Only three counties in Michigan meet that population figure: Wayne, Oakland and Macomb. The regulation also only applies when the zoning in the drilling location is for residential activity and 40 or more structures for public or private occupancy exist within 1,320 feet of the well location.

The changes come from a task force convened after public outcry caused by an oil well built in a zoned residential area of Macomb County’s Shelby Township last August — only about 500 feet from a neighborhood. Noisy drilling occurred on a 24-7 basis for about three weeks, along with bright lights at night and truck and heavy equipment traffic.

The new rules “require a lot of protections in terms of noise, lighting, berming and screening,” said DEQ Supervisor of Wells Hal Fitch.

“It provides transparency, notice to residents. It requires a thorough analysis of alternate drilling locations — a company’s got to tell us why there’s not a better location to drill from that’s farther from residential development.”

The instruction comes after several meetings of a task force consisting of representatives from state government, the Michigan Townships Association, the Michigan Oil and Gas Association, and members of the public, Fitch said. He said he recognizes the new instruction to oil and gas developers will not satisfy everyone.

“There are some who would just like to prohibit oil and gas development,” he said. “The problem with that is, the mineral owners and the companies leasing the minerals have constitutional rights that you have to honor. You can’t just deny people their property rights, unless you pay them for it.”

The new rules take effect for all oil and gas development that starts in the state after Feb. 24.

“One of the advantages of an instruction, as opposed to more formal rule-making, is that we can turn it around in a short period of time,” Fitch said. “We’re going to look at how this works, examine it and make adjustments as the need arises.”

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