Posted by – Steve Cohen, Director of Community Development
The Auburn Hills Planning Commission has scheduled a special meeting for Thursday, April 10th at 7:00 p.m. in the Council Chamber to review a new ordinance regulating oil and gas wells.
The topic became a very important matter for our community this past November when an oil and gas exploration company began to show interest in setting up a drilling operation on residential property in the northeast corner of the City.
Although gas and oil drilling is heavily regulated by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the City of Auburn Hills has determined that it also has the right to oversee this activity through its Zoning Ordinance. The Michigan Zoning Enabling Act, which specifically states that counties and townships do not have the authority to regulate oil and gas wells; does not mention cities or villages. Because cities and villages are not specifically addressed in the Act, it has been determined by our City Attorney that cities and villages have some limited ability to regulate such operations.
With that in mind, a new City ordinance has been drafted for review by the Planning Commission and final acceptance by the City Council, which meets two primary criteria required by State law. Our new ordinance: 1) may not be in direct conflict with State and Federal law; and 2) may not be “exclusionary.” Exclusionary means that the City’s Zoning Ordinance can not prohibit drilling within the City. It has to be allowed in appropriate areas.
Thus, the proposed ordinance addresses many of the concerns raised in recent months. Such as the following:
- Expressly prohibiting hydraulic fracturing and/or “fracking” within the City.
- Permitting oil and gas wells only on industrially zoned property (e.g., I-1, I-2, and I-3 districts). It’s noted that horizontal drilling under residential property from an industrial site can’t be regulated by the City and is authorized per State and Federal law, if proper leases and permits are acquired by the exploration company.
- Requiring the drilling site for the well to have a significant setback from homes, schools, religious institutions, child care facilities, and hospitals.
- Outlining standards which address potential nuisance concerns such as noise, dust, odor, truck traffic, etc.
We believe the methodological and comprehensive approach that Auburn Hills has taken to study this issue, become educated on the topic, and resolve concerns raised will be a positive example for other Michigan cities and villages to follow.
The good news with this story is that the oil and gas exploration company mentioned earlier has formally agreed in writing not to drill on residential land and will abide by the proposed ordinance, which creates a “win-win” solution for all.