Drilling Down On A Difficult Issue

Posted by – Steve Cohen, Director of Community Development

Whew.  It’s done.

Congrats to the Auburn Hills City Council for setting the gold standard for addressing oil and gas exploration in Michigan.  Last week, they put the finishing touches on an innovative law that protects residential property, while navigating the muddy waters involved with asserting its regulatory authority.

This topic became a very important matter for our community back in November 2013 when West Bay Exploration began to show interest in setting up a drilling operation at The Apostolic Church in the northeast corner of the City.   The proposal was out of left field.  No one could have ever envisioned that a drilling rig could set up shop so close to homes, but State law appeared to clearly allow it.  Yikes!

Typical temporary drilling rig used to create an oil and gas well

Typical temporary drilling rig used to create an oil and gas well

Subsequently, a large number of people attended a series of Council meetings to express their concerns with the industrial nature of the land use and the potential negative impacts such operations could have on their neighborhood.  People were rightfully upset.  However, the Council did the right thing.  They reviewed the issue in a methodical and transparent manner with the assistance of the Planning Commission and City staff.  The Council was very fair and thorough in their deliberations.  The interests of both West Bay Exploration and City residents were honored and respected.

In a nut shell, the new ordinance addresses the following:

  • Requires a City permit to drill an oil and gas well.
  • Permits wells only on industrially zoned property.
  • Expressly prohibits hydraulic fracturing and/or “fracking” within the City.
  • Requires wells to have a significant setback from homes, schools, religious institutions, child care facilities, and hospitals.
  • Outlines standards which address potential nuisance concerns such as noise, dust, odor, truck traffic, etc.
  • Requires restitution if the City responds to an emergency or incident involving a well which was the result of negligence or a violation of law.

This difficult and complicated process was handled the right way by our community, which produced a “win-win” solution for all.  It’s something we should celebrate and be very proud of.