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Proposal to Drill in Remote Pigeon River Country

Terra Energy wants to expand

December 1, 1997 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Terra Energy is seeking to drill for Antrim Shale gas in a remote and scenic region of the Pigeon River Country State Forest. The proposal by the state's largest natural gas company would put between three and nine new wells, accompanied by roads and pipelines, in the Blue Lakes area, a 2,608-acre woodland added to the forest in 1990.

The parcel, which includes two undeveloped lakes and a long stretch of the Black River, is accessible only by foot.Terra executives say they believe the northwest corner of Montmorency County, which includes the Blue Lakes area, is a prime development zone. Drilling already is underway east of the Blue Lakes and outside the state forest.

The Pigeon River Country Advisory Council, a state-sanctioned board established nearly 20 years ago to oversee the public forest, is opposing the plan. In a letter to K.L. Cool, Director of the Department of Natural Resources, the Council said the proposed development would be "an assault against the peaceful serenity of the Blue Lakes area." In calling on Mr. Cool to block the permits, the Council also pointed out that the proposal would violate a 1980 court judgment that strictly limited energy development in the state forest.

A DNR spokesman said Mr. Cool has not reached a decision on Terra's plan.

Members of the Advisory Council pointed out the irony of allowing drilling in the Blue Lakes area.The tract was purchased with $1.9 million from the Natural Resources Trust Fund, a public account used to protect unique and environmentally sensitive lands. Revenues for the Trust Fund, which was established as part of an agreement to end the controversy in the 1970s over drilling in the Pigeon River Country, are derived entirely from royalties from publicly-owned minerals.

Advisory Council members note that 20 years after the Trust Fund was established, wild lands purchased through it now are being sought by the energy industry for development.


The use of hydrocarbon development plans would sharply reduce environmental damage on thousands of acres of wild land that make up the heart of Michigan's North Woods.


MERC Researching Better Approaches for Watersheds

In the early 1970s, a group of private citizens and state foresters came up with a workable solution to the controversy over drilling for oil and gas in the Pigeon River Country State Forest. A hydrocarbon development plan was created for the area that enabled the oil companies to operate profitably while minimizing environmental damage in the Lower Peninsula's largest stretch of wild land.

Despite the Pigeon River plan's considerable success, it is the only one ever formally adopted by the DNR. The Michigan Energy Reform Coalition now is studying how to revive the hydrocarbon development plan approach for the watersheds of the entire Pigeon River, and the Jordan, Betsie, Boardman, Manistee, AuSable, and Black rivers.

These areas, among the most beautiful in the nation, now are facing potentially ruinous consequences from Antrim natural gas development. The use of hydrocarbon development plans would sharply reduce environmental damage on thousands of acres of wild land that make up the heart of Michigan's North Woods.

As a model for managing oil and gas drilling in an ecologically-sensitive region, the Pigeon River plan has been unsurpassed in joining environmental and economic goals. Less than one-third of the 98,000-acre wilderness was opened to development. The oil reserve was tapped from a small number of sites using directional drilling technology. The roads and pipelines cut into the forest were kept to the minimum necessary. The management plan is overseen by a state-appointed committee of citizens, DNR officials, and industry representatives.

The result is that the Pigeon River Country State Forest is one of Michigan's most productive oil producing regions. It also is a place where elk, bobcat and bear roam in abundance, and where hikers and canoers can trek for days without any reminder of industrial civilization.

MERC's effort to revive hydrocarbon development planning is supported by grants from The Joyce Foundation and the Michigan Environmental Council.

For more information about how you can participate in this project, contact the Institute at 616-882-4723.

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