Metro Detroit townships fight oil drilling near homes

WEST BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. – West Bloomfield Township Supervisor Michelle Economou-Ureste has been making protest signs in her garage.

She is planning a picket at the Michigan state House next month about an issue that is gaining steam: the drilling for oil and gas near residential areas.

"It's not fair that the people do not have a say," she said. "Since when do people not have a say on an issue that directly affects them and the value of their homes?"

The supervisor has a map of where the mineral rights have been leased for potential oil and gas exploration in West Bloomfield Township. One area is on Orchard Lake where there are new homes for sale. Neighbors may not have any idea that an oil drilling operation could move in at any time.

Oil and gas drilling has a long history in Michigan but this issue is becoming about the perception of it near homes, and the future value of those homes.

Will anyone buy a home near a drilling site?

"I wouldn't," said Economou-Ureste.

West Bloomfield Township was first to pass a moratorium on drilling and fracking. On Wednesday night, Shelby Township and Scio Township passed similar ordinances.

West Bay Exploration, a Traverse City-based company, tells Local 4 drilling work in Scio and Shelby townships continues as their attorneys look at the moratoriums.

They don't have to stop. The state of Michigan took away all regulatory power from townships when it comes to this type of drilling.

However, the Department of Environmental Quality approves the permits for gas and oil drilling. Late Thursday, the DEQ said the concerns have them meeting about potential changes in the rules -- primarily the law that the sites have to be 450 feet from homes.

"If you set up the rules to address the situation, they've got to work anywhere," said Brad Wurfel, Michigan DEQ communications director. "And so the question before the DEQ right now is do the rules we've got work, and we're taking a look."

About the Author:

Local 4 Defender Shawn Ley is an Emmy award-winning journalist who has been with Local 4 News for more than a decade.