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Developer Files for Permit to Drill in Jordan Valley

Zaremba application seeks end to solitude

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

The dispute over gas drilling in the Jordan Valley is intensifying. On February 14, Walter Zaremba, an Elmira businessman, officially filed an application to drill the first natural gas well on public land in the protected Jordan Valley Management Area.

The permit application came after Governor John Engler unveiled a proposal to use public funds to purchase privately-owned mineral rights in the Jordan Valley. The buyout plan has triggered a high-profile debate over the precedents it would create, and the potential cost to taxpayers. (See editorial on page 18).

The Department of Environmental Quality must take action on Mr. Zaremba's permit application within sixty days.

The Michigan Land Use Institute and Friends of the Jordan River Watershed, two groups leading the effort to protect the Jordan Valley from oil and gas development, are pressing the DEQ to deny the request.

"This permit should not even be considered," said John Richter, vice president of Friends of the Jordan. "The state has an obligation to uphold the Management Plan that has barred all oil and gas development in the Jordan Valley Management Area for more than 20 years."

The Department of Natural Resources also opposes drilling in the Jordan Valley. In a letter to the DEQ in March, DNR Area Forest Manager Bill O'Neill pointed out numerous deficiencies in the application, and firmly recommended "denial of the drilling permit."

A critical aspect of the application for the well is the pipeline it would require. Mr. Zaremba is proposing to install a pipeline across more than one mile of protected land in the Jordan Valley that is off-limits to oil and gas development.

To build this pipeline Mr. Zaremba would need approval from the DNR, not the DEQ. The DNR publicly announced last January that it would deny any attempt to lay a pipeline across state land.

The crux of the issue lies with an overriding responsibility of the DEQ, which is to "prevent waste" of natural resources. Supporters of drilling argue that it would be "wasteful" to leave the gas in the ground. Opponents of drilling say that if the DNR will not allow a pipeline, then permitting an isolated well would be wasteful.

Meanwhile, Mr. Zaremba appears to be searching for a way to sidestep DNR approval for a pipeline. Through his attorney, Peter Zirnheldt, he said recently that he will seek a pipeline permit from the Michigan Public Service Commission, the agency that regulates the major pipelines in the state and in some cases has permitting authority over Antrim gas gathering lines.

John King, Supervisor of the Petroleum Engineering Section of the MPSC, confirmed that Mr. Zaremba's attorney had contacted him.

Mr. King said that if Mr. Zaremba applies for a pipeline permit, considering the opposition of the DNR and the controversial nature of the case, the request most likely would go through a formal hearing process. G

What: Public hearing on Walter Zaremba's application to drill in the Jordan Valley, sponsored by the Department of Environmental Quality
May 21, 1997
Shanty Creek Resort, Bellaire
Registration at 6:00 p.m.
Public comment starts at 7:00 p.m.

When: Where: Time:

This is it! The chance for citizens to send the message -- loud and clear -- that we want one of Michigan's last great natural areas to remain free of oil and gas drilling. Come if you want to speak, or come to show your support. An impressive turnout will speak volumes!

For more information, contact: The DEQ at 517-
334-6907, Friends of the Jordan at 616-533-5063, or the Institute at 616-882-4723.

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