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Posted on Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Saline halts wholesale water sales as concerns surface over oil drilling

By Lisa Allmendinger

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.


Mitch Rohde presents his concerns about oil and gas drilling in the Saline area.

Lisa Allmendinger |

“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 She can be reached at For more Saline stories, visit our Saline page.



Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 4:19 a.m.

Check out for information about fracking... a relatively new technique to widen cracks in shale formations to extract the last natural gas & oil from those formations. The drilling companies refusal to reveal what is injected is very troubling... as is the lack of transparency on mistakes, spills, and unintended consequences. You're 2/3 water... act accordingly.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 11:20 p.m.

Yes oil is evil. The jobs it will bring will result in more traffic.banks will make money off the $'s they lend. State and local politicians will have to think about the allocation of new fininacial reources. We should definately buy oil from Iran so they will have money to devolop their new electricial plants.

Ron Stout

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 7:11 p.m.

Humans are idiots . We kill ourselves in comfort . Democracy is voting on American Idol . All you have to do is look carefully at hat has happened to other cracked places like Virginia , contaminated water , earthquakes (remember 1812 ?) ,etc . It's a great thing that bee have a National Healthcare Program ! We're all gonna need it !

A Voice in the Crowd

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 5:30 p.m.

Mitch Rohde does not represent my views on this matter. He is painting a Doomsday picture and I won't fall for scaremonger tactics. Mr. Rohde says that his company isn't here to suck non-renewable resources out of the ground, which may be true, but he had no problem asking the City of Saline for a large tax abatement on his business. Is this supporting Saline?


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 4:21 p.m.

The key issue is what chemicals are added to the water injected into the wells. If the company is trying to be above board, they should make that public. It is my understanding that some form of fracturing is used for both oil and gas extraction. We declined to allow oil extraction under our land because of this question and other concerns. The wells are an eyesores initially - flaring gas & bright lights on the drilling rig all night long lighting up the night sky. I'd be interested to know the experiences of landowners near these wells. Natural gas or funny taste in their well water? Any one felt earth tremors recently?


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 4:18 p.m.

The party of get- the-government-out-of-rich-peoples' -lives that is currently in control in Lansing, has already enacted laws to prevent the 99.9% from even thinking about fighting fracking and oil drilling. Anyone who believes the energy companies when they say their operations are completely safe has their head buried somewhere. Companies exist to generate profits, that is capitalism. If public health and safety interfere with the pursuit of corporate profits, then we'd better have very strong, independent enforcement of environmental laws or our health and well being will be one giant and painful handout to corporate ownership. Mr. Rohde has my admiration for recognizing reality and placing his name on the republicon hit list. I'd rather pay $20 per gallon for gasoline than have to truck my water in from some country that has successfully fought the conservative scourge and protected their environment.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 4:12 p.m.

Question: Is this exploration for oil, ie. petroleum? Or natural gas, or fraking? I would think it's about natural gas exploration, given the geology of this region, and not oil. But the story isn't really clear...


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 6:29 p.m.

@kmgeb2000 Interesting! Thanks!


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 5:33 p.m.

Oil exploration is currently the focus in this area, as well as, to the south and in Jackson County. Since no receiving stations/pipeline are present in the immediate area, the produced oil is temporarily stored onsite and trucked to the refinery (Marathon). Some wells produce in the neighborhood of 42,000 gallons of oil per month, therefore needing multiple visits per month to recover the oil via tanker trucks. Drill sites also typically include a flare to burn off or eliminate waste gas, which is otherwise not feasible to use or transport. This does not eliminate the potential for gas exploration, but what has been developed so far in the area has been for oil exploration. The MDEQ has developed an online mapping tool called GeoWebFace ( which one can view the well location, type, and status. In addition, new permit site can also be identified.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 3:53 p.m.

The same city council approved public art, gay and lesbian month, and an electric car charging station that has yet to have one car charged. This is knee jerk politics once again without doing the homework. Fracking is a very sound proven technology with ZERO negative environmental impacts. Please show us one example of fracking gone bad. It doesn't exist. Brian Marl is running for Mayor and is an aide to Jeff Irwin perhaps the most liberal politico in Lansing and Gretchen Driskell has her sights set on Lansing. Understand who these people are who are driving these decisions in Saline. They may live in Saline but have Ann Arbor tattoos across their foreheads.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 8:21 p.m.

"The same city council approved public art, gay and lesbian month, and an electric car charging station that has yet to have one car charged" is good for the community, recognizing June as LGBT pride month is a national event (even in Saline), and not true about the charging station. I saw someone charging their VOLT there last week. Fracking is good? zero negative results? WOW someone is drinking the kool aid but I'd expect nothing less from the "drill baby drill" crowd


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 5:03 p.m.

Fracking, by its very nature, has negative outcomes. It doesn't have to "go bad". It *is* bad. It takes millions of gallons of water (a limited shared resource) and adds chemicals and carcinogens, the resulting mix which then has to be disposed of. So even if not a single well is poisoned, even if not a single earthquake results, there is serious negative environmental outcome.

Homeland Conspiracy

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 2:31 p.m.

I noticed that this news piece hasn't or WON'T say it...but it sounds just like what happens when fracking is used. The good ppl in Saline should of watched the documentary called Gas Land before signing anything. Be careful you don't light a while the water's running!

John of Saline

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 3:12 p.m.

Except that was proven to be a setup that had nothing to do with fracking. If you don't trust one side, I'm not sure why you should trust the other side 100% either.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 1:40 p.m.

Leases can in fact go well beyond the term (and indefinitely) since there are auto renewals in them. Depending on gas prices and whether gas extraction is an economically viable option, there is nothing in the leases to prevent wells being hydraulically fracked.

Brent Bartson

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 1:34 p.m.

We are scraping the bottom of the barrel with these drilling techniques. Only 20% of the oil/gas extracted in Michigan stays in Michigan. The price at the pump is affected by global demand and politics. What little comes out of the ground in Michigan is just benefiting a few and the risks are going to be on the shoulders of us and our children. The oil development that's going on around Saline is going to impact property values at a minimum. It's going to make Saline a less appealing place to live for new families. Who want to small Hydrogen Sulfide (a poisonous gas). And if there is a spill, it's going to be a big mess to clean up. There have already been hundreds of contaminations within Michigan : Today it's oil extraction in Saline township. Tomorrow it could be fracking. It appears that the oil companies are already planning for that in Jackson county since they've applied for a permit to install two-three deep injection wells for disposing of Class II toxic waste (at the headwaters of the Raisin River). If you really want to learn about the perils of the oil & gas industry in Michigan you should take the time to peruse Dr Chris Grobbels presentation that he did in Brooklyn recently (he used to work for the DEQ and was one of those people that had to don a haz-mat suite to clean up spills). You can see is here : Please read, learn and then decide how you really feel about this.


Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 12:28 a.m.

It's reported that Paxton has 24,000 acres leased in the area. If that's the case, and they only have four wells producing with about an acre for each site when complete, that converts to a fraction of 1% of land used, and usually not visible (from what I've seen). Also, don't trust anybody, ask lots of question, get both sides of the story, even Dr.Grobbels opinion. When were those wells drilled that he reports, who drilled them, are they oil wells, under what regs? What's his angle? Environmental work, consulting? Also, oil wells can produce water, I bet those disposal wells are for that, not fracking.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 1:19 p.m.

Oil prices will not be reduced by the extraction from this area - this is a commodity which is traded on the world market. There will be next to no local jobs created from this development. There have been problems with wells in Michigan, the database which collected information on these has been discontinued. For problems related to oil and gas take a look at the presentation posted on BanMichiganFracking website under Resources - Chris Grobbel, sad and scary reading. I am sure, like many of us, Mr Rohdes would prefer to earn his income without negatively impacting his neighbors' lives. What price would you put on clean water, clean air and the knowledge that you are handing a decent environment on to your children?


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 1:16 p.m.

It's a little unclear from the article if fracking is actually happening in Saline or just a possibility. There are huge potential downsides, including contamination of local water supplies, and the fracking companies are typically not upfront about exactly what chemicals they are injecting into the ground. We all have a lot at stake here. I hope will have a report on that meeting on Wed.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 1:10 p.m.

"I can say that my company is here to s(t)ay, and is here to suck non-renewal resources out of the ground, profit, and in a locust-like manner move on(e), leaving a path of industrialization, potential contaminant (sic), property devaluation and other issues while lining up the next small town to feed on," Rohde's letter to the City Council states. ____________________ Yep. That's about the size of it. It IS possible to get the courts to force them to truck in drinking water for you once your aquifer is contaminated. It only takes a few years of court proceedings (which you are gonna have to pay for, of course). So you've got that going for you. Unless the judge is a republican.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 1:09 p.m.

Unless you are faced with the real possibility of having a well on or near your property, it is very easy to critcize those of us who are concerned about this issue. I encourage you to drive by the operational well on Braun Rd. in Saline Township and see if you would like that in your backyard or right across the street outside your living room window on your neighbors property. We have spent over 20 years and a great deal of very hard earned money restoring a historic home in Saline Township. If wells are placed in the vicinity of our home, all of our investment of hard work and money will instantly disappear as our property value immediately decreases. In fact, with a well right across the road, I am quite sure we would not be able to sell at any price. This would be true even if there is no contamination of the ground water ... if contamination does occur, our problems would be exponentially worse. Are those of you who are criticizing the people who are raising concerns about the drilling ready and willing to have a well in YOUR front yard?


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 11:52 p.m.

@djacks24 & DonBee -With crystal balls and a lottery win perhaps?


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 7:22 p.m.

gawaters - When development is done, either the rig and everything else will disappear because it is not productive -OR- production equipment will appear. For gas, in most cases that is a valve tree about 4 feet tall, if there is corn in the field, no one will ever see it. If it is oil, given the shallow depth of most of the oil in Michigan a small pump will be put in place. The people in the middle of the state Frankenmuth to the east, St. Johns to the west and up to Higgen's Lake have thousands of production wells. If you drive in the middle part of the state you will miss 90 percent of them because they are so small in size. You could have bought the leases yourself to avoid this or bought the property.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 1:46 p.m.

So buy the property all around you so you have say in how its used.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 1:01 p.m.

I think the landowners who sold their "Mineral Rights" for "HUGE PROFITS" should go to jail for attempted murder of their neighbors! Everybody knows that you cannot trust GREEDY OIL Companies! You can only Trust the US Government!

John of Saline

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 3:09 p.m.

*beeeeeeeeeeeeeep* Sarcasm detected.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 12:53 p.m.

Where do you think the crude oil from here goes . It goes to overseas refinaries because that is where big oil wants them that way they have more control of the supply. Valero is basically the only home grown gas supply from USA oil wells.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 12:48 p.m.

@jimmy, It does effect everyone not just the farmer. Just look how far the contamination from Gelmans has spread from just one site where they injected it into a well.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 12:47 p.m.

Why was Michigan Dept. of Enviromental Quality not interviewed for this article? MDEQ actually DOES monitor these companies very closely. I have a mineral lease on a property of mine in another area (not local), I spoke extensivly with MDEQ prior to signing my lease to ensure it would not be detrimental to my property. I wonder how upset Mitch Rhode would be about it if he were receiving a royalty check. Some people just have to stir up trouble about something to keep themselves in the limelight and so they feel relevant. Do you really think the oil companies won't figure out how to get water if you stop selling it to them? Oh well, just keep sending all of our oil money over seas to the Arab nations, I'm sure they need the money more than we do anyway.

Brent Bartson

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 1:10 p.m.

The DEQ does not monitor these wells sufficiently. With 28,000 wells and approx 38 staff they simply don't have the resources. AND, when there is a spill they don't have the resources to do proper soil/water sampling. I was at a meeting where a DEQ official admitted that an oil company in Hillsdale area was fracking (illegally) and the DEQ didn't find out about it until after the fact. Now you don't just flip a switch on the rig and put it into fracking mode. The DEQ was obviously not monitoring properly. As a former DEQ employee told us in a public forum "don't trust the regulator".


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 12:23 p.m.

Mr Rohde could always purchase those leases himself from those greedy property owners, so those evil oil companies can be kept at bay. As a local businessman, I would much rather buy locally "grown" oil than imported oil. Better to help Saline than Nigeria or Saudi Arabia. I applaud any effort to help the re-industrialization of Michigan. Being at the intersection of the Utica Shale to the south, and the Antrim Basin to the north, this state could have some of the most productive fields around, and historically has had some huge finds especially near Deerfield not far south of here.

John Alan

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 11:56 a.m.

It is amazing that a city would sell water to a company that is going to use it and potentially contaminate the city's water source. I am glad they stopped it (atleast for now). It is very surprising that a company comes and start exploration so close to fairly populated area. It seems to be nothing but pure greed. Typically, these companies stay away from the areas that are populated and stick with the farmlands away from people. These companies will drop all their effort and will abundant all the wells the second that the oil price hit below $75. Also, if they hit Sour Crude, everyone within radius of 10 miles will be enjoying the smell... next you know the everyone either will leave the area or gets to deal with the health issues related to all the air and water contaminations that are created by these companies. Since my take is that the township and counties are not too willing to do anything, if I was living anywhere close to this area, I would be selling and running now...... before the already next to nothing property values drop lower!!!


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 11:29 a.m.

Lots of open gaps in this article ..reminiscent of the" not in my back yard crowd "...when I'm paying $5 a gallon for imported oil I'll think of this...

Jimmy McNulty

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 8:03 p.m.

@Kronoberger, I guess the price of gas has NOTHING to do with crude oil being $104/barrel, does it?

Chase Ingersoll

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 2:10 p.m.

Kronberger: The refineries have been reduced because of the regulatory costs (state and federal) to upgrade or build new, and in some cases basically they are not being allowed to build at all. I suspect that they are just saying "Fine, let the prices rise as that will eventually result in the voters who are more sensitive to gas prices, that environmental dangers, getting to the polls and electing administrations that will make it easier for them to upgrade and re-build." My perspective is that except for environmental cost of wars, on the environmental issues that actually affect longevity of the average person, we are solidly in a forward direction. The greatest environmental issue affecting life span and quality of life, especially in the United States, is still by far, the food that people chose to put in their mouths. Chase Ingersoll


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 11:45 a.m.

Unless you are burning natural gas this will have little impact on gas prices which are at an all time low even as gas prices continue to climb. Gas prices are high because oil companies have reduced the number of refineries that produce gasoline and because we insist on punishing Iran for their non-existent nuclear capability.

Jimmy McNulty

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 10:48 a.m.

"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." " The police department is partially funded by my taxes and traffic tickets, but that never stopped me from being pulled over. I don't see the conflict of interest spoken about in the article. The article doesn't say much about Mitch Rohde. What does he do, and how is he deeply invested in the Saline area? Have there been any problems yet with drilling in the area? So the leases seem somewhat one-sided? No one forced the property owners to sign them.


Wed, Apr 18, 2012 : 7:48 p.m.

Perhaps, like many of us, he and his family live in the area???????

Jimmy McNulty

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 8 p.m.

Thanks DonBee & John Alan, I was just curious about the players mentioned in the article.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 7:14 p.m.

Mitch Rohde is heavily invested in the area and Saline specifically. He is a robotics/software person who owns Quantum Signal. They bought the old school building as a headquarters. I am not sure what being a software person has to do with mining though.


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 12:36 p.m.

John, all mineral leases have an expiration date. Curious, the people who regret signing it, are they getting royalties? I would assume they are not and are upset that they signed assuming tey would be rich but now no drilling is being done in their immediate area keeping them from sharing in the profits.

John Alan

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 12:10 p.m.

From what I hear in this area, several people that have signed the lease are regreting it and are looking into getting it un-done. If one reads the lease that are registered with the county clerk office, you would say what were they thinking once they signed this..... i.e., giving away all their mineral rights and more w/o any expiration!!!!!