Sale of gas and oil rights of local state land has group worried

Reps from state to speak October 18

by BETH ALTENA

A small but intensely interested group of residents attended a meeting held at North Rockford Middle School the evening of Thursday, September 27 and had plenty of questions but few firm answers about the potential for environmental damage following a scheduled October 24 auction by the State for mining rights on parcels on the Cannonsburg State Game Area, the White Pine Trail and the Rogue River State Game Area.

The meeting began with a factual, if somewhat alarmist statement by Duane DeVries, President of the Rockford-based Dwight Lydell Chapter of the conservation group, The Izaak Walton League. “Earth is the only habitable planet we have. If we screw it up we are all homeless,” he stated. DeVries stated that the organization supports a moratorium on any drilling for oil or gas that uses the process of high pressure hydrolic fracturing until the Enviromental Protection Agency completes a study underway to determine the level of safety of the process, commonly known as “fracking.”

He further stated that oil and gas companies are exempt from a number of environmental and safety guidelines after the passage of the 2005 Bush-era policy. Included in the exemption, DeVries stated, are rules of the Federal Clean Air Act and the Federal Clean Water Act.

Shirley Kallio, event chair, stressed the purpose of the meeting was not to convince residents whether fracking is safe or dangerous, but only to “give information so you can make informed decisions on your own.”

Nicholas Occhipinti, Director of Policy and Community Activisim for the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, stated that drilling is not allowed on state land which is designated Surface Non Development, which applies to the local parcels. Oil companies would access any oil or gas from the parcels by buying the rights to drill on neighboring private property.

In addition to the money gained by the auction of the mining rights, a percentage of the value of the oil or gas recovered is reserved by the state. These funds, Occhipinti stated, are compensation for use of our publicly owned natural resources and are designated to go in perpetuity to funds designated for protecting our environmental resources.

Occhipinti said he had two reasons to believe sale now of gas and mining rights is not in the best interest of the state, its residents or resources. He stated that gas and oil prices are currently at an historic low.

He also said further investigation of an alleged previous collusion scam between two competing mining companies is necessary. He believes emailed agreements between the two companies in a previous auction radically reduced the income from that earlier auction.

Kallio advised any residents who are approached about agreeing to allow mining to take place on their property use extreme caution. According to the meeting agenda and her presentation, mining companies are not required to tell land owners whether the mining they plan includes fracking. She said any agreement should include documentation spelling out which party is responsible for any post drilling clean-up.

Kallio said the lessons learned by other communities across the country should be considered prior to allowing mining. She said the industry brings in transient workers who need housing, schooling for children and other social services. She stated that oil companies do not compensate communities for the wear and tear on resources such as road. “Communities end up poorer after mining. This industry moves very quickly, catches communities unaware.”

“Do not take the land man’s (term for oil and gas lease salesperson) word,” Kallio stated. “Part of the persuasion is that all of your neighbors have signed up. Talk to your neighbors yourself. Talk to an attorney before you sign.”

State Representative Peter MacGregor will be hosting a town hall meeting with representatives from the state of Michigan to discuss the sale of the oil and gas rights. The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, October 18 at 6 p.m. at Cannon Township Hall. Space may be limited.

According to reports by Michigan Public Radio, Michigan has been selling rights to oil and gas companies at least since 2000. The auctions usually take place twice a year, in spring and fall. According to NPR’s discussion with DNR officials, sale of the rights do not give oil companies the ability to drill. Any drilling has to be approved by permit with the DNR.

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