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Lawmakers Take Up Proposal for Better Oil and Gas Planning

Would enact model used in the Pigeon River country

April 1, 1998 | By Hans Voss
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

The House Forestry and Mineral Rights Committee is holding hearings in Lansing on a proposal that would significantly strengthen citizen oversight of and planning for oil and gas development in Michigan. Introduced by committee Chairman David Anthony, (D-Escanaba), the proposal is based on the recommendations in Rivers at Risk-->Rivers at Risk, a report published by the Institute last year.

Rep. Anthony's proposal requires the oil and gas industry to work with state regulators, citizens, and local governments to prepare formal plans that guide the installation of wells, pipelines, and processing stations along the Great Lakes coastline and in the sensitive watersheds of northern Michigan. The intent of the proposal is to promote the orderly development of Michigan's valuable oil and gas reserves, protect the environment, safeguard communities, and ensure maximum economic returns to taxpayers.

Such goals would be realized by establishing Citizen Advisory Councils in watersheds to assist the industry and the state in preparing development plans before exploration occurs. The 12-member councils would be made up of state officials, local government leaders, residents, and industry executives

Rep. Anthony said the law is needed because the "record shows the Department of Environmental Quality is not adequately managing the industry," and that the DEQ's rulings have favored oil and gas companies at the expense of the environment, communities, and private property owners. He added that having the law in place would reduce conflicts and address "the needs of local communities and local governments."

The proposal is supported by leading conservation organizations, including Trout Unlimited, Friends of the Jordan River Valley Watershed, Anglers of the Au Sable, Michigan Environmental Council, Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, and the Grand Traverse Audubon Club. Resolutions supporting the proposal have been adopted by the Antrim County Board of Commissioners and six townships in northern Michigan.

However the Engler Administration is siding with the energy industry and some legislators to block the proposal. Industry executives insist that they already are burdened with too many requirements. The state official in charge of oil and gas regulation, DEQ Geological Survey Division Chief Hal Fitch, backs up the industry's assessment and says that implementing oil and gas development planning would "require too much bureaucracy."

Rep. Anthony counters his opponents by pointing out that the planning process would use existing environmental data, local expertise, and industry technology to:

• Coordinate permitting decisions with local land use plans to reduce the conflicts among oil and gas development and residential and recreation uses.

• Identify acceptable areas for oil and gas development.

• Identify the most environmentally-sensitive areas that should be placed off-limits to drilling.

• Establish specific criteria to guide oil and gas development in other areas, emphasizing directional
drilling technology and sharing pipeline corridors and access roads.

• Establish appropriate setbacks from sand dunes,
wetlands, surface water, parks and residences.

• Restrict the use of buried on-site waste pits.

Rep. Anthony's proposal contains recommendations endorsed by a number of state commissions since 1980 that reached the same conclusion: There is a need for Michigan to establish comprehensive planning for oil and gas development.

The most recent study was completed last October by the Michigan Environmental Science Board, which called for "comprehensive environmental planning" that includes "communication between all stakeholders," and the use of local land use plans'" before drilling is allowed on the Great Lakes shoreline.

CONTACT: Rep. David Anthony, State Capitol, P.O. Box 30014, Lansing, MI 48909-7514. 517-373-0156, danthon@house.state.mi.us.

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