As natural gas drilling moves deeper into Antrim County, two property owner groups from the Torch Lake
region are seeking to establish an energy development plan that prevents damage to the environment while
maintaining the county's rural quality of life.
"Basically, we are concerned with what the development could do to the water quality of Torch Lake and
to the environment of Antrim County," said Virginia Mouch, president of the 490-member Torch Lake Protection
Alliance, which has joined with the Three Lakes Association in establishing the plan. "The streams and lakes in this
region are connected. Any accident or problem in one will ultimately affect Torch Lake, one way or another."
The planning proposal, which will be prepared by the Institute and the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council,
has attracted initial support from some members of the Antrim County government. It is modeled after
recommendations published last year in Rivers at Risk, an Institute report that outlined the effectiveness of
hydrocarbon development plans in balancing environmental and economic goals.
The new activism comes as the number of natural gas wells steadily increases in rural Antrim County,
which is northeast of Traverse City. Since drilling began in the early 1990s, more than 600 natural gas wells
have been installed in the county, along with miles of new roads, and pipelines. Only Otsego (2,784 wells) and
Montmorency (1,539 wells) counties had more operating natural gas wells at the start of 1998, according to
the most recent figures from the Michigan Public Service Commission.
To date most of the drilling has occurred in eastern Antrim County, in Custer, Echo, Jordan, Warner, and
Mancelona townships. The drillers, led by Lee's Petroleum and O.I.L. Energy, now are heading west toward
the 18-mile long Torch Lake, which spans six townships. One of those is Helena Township, where Lee's
Petroleum has proposed 15 new gas wells. Another is Central Lake Township, where dozens of property owners
have been approached by industry employees seeking to negotiate mineral leases.
CONTACTS: Virginia Mouch, 616-264-6638; Ann Baughman, water resource program director, Tip of the
Mitt Watershed Council, 616-347-1181; Hans Voss at the Institute, 616-882-4723.