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Case Study

Antrim County landowners get smart

May 1, 1999 | By Arlin Wasserman
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Case Study
Antrim County Landowners
Get Smart

"Think like an oil man."That's the strategy nearly 200 landowners near Torch Lake are using to respond to the steady spread of natural gas wells in Antrim County. Instead of relying on a system that has left bitterness among hundreds of northern Michigan residents, they are working together to decide whether and how to lease their mineral rights.

The project is based on education and cooperation. By understanding how the energy industry operates and how the leasing process works, these landowners instantly increase their control. They are working in their common interest instead of allowing energy companies to pit them against each other.

The logic is simple, but the method is innovative. In fact, this may be the first time in Michigan that a group this large — collectively representing almost 10 square miles of property — has attempted a coordinated leasing program. The initiative already is viewed as a model for putting property owners, not oil and gas companies or state regulators, in charge of energy development.

The initiative was launched last summer by the Torch Lake Protection Alliance, the Three Lakes Association, the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, and the Institute. Its approach provides a rare opportunity for members of a community to decide together whether they want drilling to occur, and if so, exactly how it will happen.

A block of landowners may choose to negotiate a collective lease that allows drilling, but that also ensures fair compensation, requires strict environmental restrictions, and follows a comprehensive conservation plan. Or they may choose not to lease their minerals at all, and agree as a group to legal restrictions that prohibit it. ~H.V.

Case Study
Protecting Ludington State Park

Two years ago Hamlin Township residents convinced the Michigan Natural Resources Commission, which oversees the Department of Natural Resources, to reject an industry-sponsored plan to drill for oil and gas under Ludington State Park. This June, with a new state law in hand, the residents will present a petition to make the park a state Land Reserve that is permanently off-limits to oil and gas development.

The new State Land Reserve Act prevents the DNR from leasing oil and gas beneath designated reserves, and requires the state to buy the private mineral holdings beneath them. All reserves must be approved by both the Natural Resources Commission and the Legislature.

Residents say Ludington State Park, a narrow strip of land between Hamlin Lake and Lake Michigan near the Nordhouse Dunes wilderness, deserves protection as the first Land Reserve because tapping oil and gas there would damage the fragile coastal ecosystem, disrupt park activities, and threaten the local tourism industry. ~A .W.

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