Saline halts wholesale water sales as concerns surface over oil drilling
Saline has unanimously imposed a moratorium on all wholesale water sales following a letter and a passionate presentation by a Saline business owner, who said that among the city customers is an oil and gas company that’s using the water for its oil and gas drilling operations.
Following his extensive research, Mitch Rohde said he fears that if these drilling practices are allowed to continue, they may lead to serious environmental problems from air pollution to well and drinking water contamination. These operations may also have an impact on local roads and cause a decline of property values in the area.
Rohde and a group of concerned citizens said they worry about spills and subsequent clean-up costs, as well.
Lisa Allmendinger | AnnArbor.com
“There are serious risks,” he said. “When you mix water and chemicals and inject it into the ground, the water doesn’t necessarily stay in the well. If they don’t find oil, they can turn it into a waste disposal.”
Rohde said Paxton Resources has signed mineral rights leases from area homeowners in Saline, Lodi and surrounding townships. which allow them to “test, drill and extract oil, gas or any other minerals they might find using methods that can destroy the local environment for profit.”
Greg Vadnais, land manager for Paxton Resources of Gaylord, said the company isn’t trying to hide anything. “Ninety percent of the safety concerns are either blown way out of proportion or based on things taking place in other states.”
"Every lease that we own and every activity that we do, is public record," he said, adding that the company “doesn’t play gotcha with the lease; we treat everybody fairly.”
Rohde disagrees and said the leases he’s seen are one sided and the environmental risks are very real.
In fact, he and a group of concerned local citizens have launched a Website, which provides links to sources about oil and gas exploration. The group meets monthly at Union School, the site of his Saline business, Quantum Signal. Rohde said the leases, “can be easily protracted for dozens of years or more, and leave little or no protection for the homeowner involved or the neighbors in nearby areas.” “As long as there’s production, the lease is held,” Vadnais said, and the land owners’ are being compensated with a monthly royalty check for their share of the minerals.
The Washtenaw County Road Commission recently unanimously rejected a lease agreement with Paxton for a small piece of property in Saline Township.
How much a landowner receives depends on the number of acres, Vadnais said, adding that most leases never get drilled because oil isn’t everywhere.
Paxton has between 26,000 and 28,000 acres of leases in Washtenaw County, most of them acquired from another company. Vadnais said the leases are short-term and give Paxton the right to include those properties in a production unit.
“I want to have a good relationship with the people that we’re dealing with regardless of their feelings about the industry,” Vadnais said. “If they have specific concerns about this, I’m more than happy to listen to them. It’s not that we’re out here operating with night-vision goggles and trying to take advantage of them. Nobody in this business continues to operate unless they have a good reputation. “
Rohde said he has invested deeply in the Saline area and has begun supporting a myriad of causes to encourage the growth of the city. “It is extremely disturbing that the city continues to facilitate activities that may force me and others from our homes.”
Several City Council members expressed concerns about drilling operations as they discussed ways that the city could discourage these practices.
"What you need is reform in the gas industry," said Council Member Jim Peters. "If we don't sell the water, your problem won't go away."
Rohde agreed that if the city chose not to sell water to Paxton, it won't stop the operation, but it might slow it down. "As every day ticks by, our homes are put in jeopardy," he said adding that the city needed to do something fast because the company was moving quickly.
“The technical methods used involve the pumping of water and chemicals into the ground, under pressure, and extraction and storage of this contaminated backflow,” he said. “Excess gas is ‘flared off’ from these wells, and hydrogen sulfide gas intermittently contaminates the air for hundreds of thousands of feet surrounding each well.”
He said the drilling operations do not have close oversight from the state Department of Environmental Quality and there are only 15 inspectors to oversee “tens of thousands of wells in Michigan.”
Rohde said that some of the funding for the oversight of these operations is funded by permitting fees from the wells, “thus, there is a direct conflict of interest by those who are supposed to be protecting us.”
He also claims that “the state legislature has attempted to strip all municipalities of control over development and over the health, safety and welfare of citizens of Washtenaw County.”
“We’re regulated by the state. This is a 100-year-old industry in the state of Michigan," Vladnais said.
In fact, State Rep. Mark Ouimet is hosting a town hall meeting Wednesday at Liberty School gym, 7265 Saline Ann Arbor Road, Saline, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. so residents can learn more about ongoing oil and gas drilling in Washtenaw County and the surrounding areas.
Hal Fitch, of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and James Clift, of the Michigan Environmental Council and an official from Paxton Resources, which is currently drilling in the area, are expected to participate in the meeting.
"We want to be good corporate partners and a responsible business operating everywhere we are," Vladnais said.
“I can say that my company is here to say, and isn’t here to suck non-renewal resources out of the ground, profit, and in a locust-like manner move one, leaving a path of industrialization, potential contaminant, property devaluation and other issues while lining up the next small town to feed on,” Rohde’s letter to the City Council states.
The vote was taken at a City Council meeting Monday night.
Cindy Heflin contributed to this story.
Lisa Allmendinger is a regional reporter for AnnArbor.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Saline stories, visit our Saline page.