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Oil search in Bay Court

by Mary Keck

May 02, 2012

If it pans out, Independence Township could cash in on oil and natural gas underneath Bay Court Park.

How much depends on the amount found, said township Superintendent Bart Clark.

"Legal review is still in progress, and there's a lot of steps to go through before we can approve this," Clark said.

Extraction "wouldn't cost the township anything," he said.

Mineral rights to about 27 acres of the 49-acre park off Andersonville Road is set for auction, 8 a.m., May 8, in Lansing. It is one of 11 Independence Township parcels up for lease.

Department of Natural Resources won't allow a wellhead within park boundaries, so residents would still be able to enjoy the park if gas and oil exploration occurs, Clark said.

"We'd insist upon that," he added.

The wellhead for oil would be located on nearby private land, and extracting natural gas could be done with horizontal hydraulic fracturing fracking -- by pumping pressurized water and chemicals into the earth.

LuAnne Kozma, Oakland County native, will be at the May 8 auction to protest the practice.

"I hope people in Independence Township educate themselves," said Kozma, campaign chair of a ballot initiative to ban fracking in Michigan.

Baycourt Park and the rest of Michigan should be protected instead of turned into "a money making machine."

"Fracking causes inescapable damage to the environment and public health," Kozma said.

Ben Brower, vice president of Jordan Exploration of Traverse City, a potential bidder, said there are "no adverse effects to the earth or people" from fracking.

After approaching a private owner, the company would clear an acre of land and drill a well at least 2,000 feet deep, which could take three days to three weeks, Brower explained.

If they find natural gas, they'll run a pipeline. If there's oil, trucks will come to transport it out.

"There's a 10-20 percent chance that you'll find oil or gas," but you have to drill a well to know for certain, he said.

Steven Wilson, oil, gas, and minerals ofice in the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), said chances of finding revenue-producing minerals are more like 1 in 3 "14,000 wells are producing at the present time" in Michigan.

The company or individual with a successful bid must get a permit from the DEQ before doing any kind of extraction.

"It's uncommon that a permit is denied," Wilson stated.

If the DEQ does deny a permit, the company could simply dissolve, come together under another name, and get a permit at a later date. Wilson declined to comment on the process of hydraulic fracturing because of active court cases.

According to Julie Mason, DNR Minerals Management section, the company that gains the lease doesn't have to be from Michigan, and natural gas and gasoline refined from oil may be sent elsewhere.

Township Board has been reviewing the legalities of mineral rights since January, said Ken Elwert, director of Parks and Recreation.

Michigan House of Representatives is considering a bill to require a comprehensive study of fracking's impact on the environment and public health.

For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/dnr/ or www.banmichiganfracking.org.