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Coalition Seeks Oil & Gas Development Planning

Appeal to governor

May 1, 1997 | By Hans Voss
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

The Michigan Energy Reform Coalition has asked Governor John Engler to reestablish a model plan, first implemented in 1980 for the Pigeon River Country State Forest, to better manage oil and gas drilling in northern Michigan's most sensitive watersheds.

Hydrocarbon development planning would be financed by an "impact" fee levied on oil and gas producers. It is part of an overall North Woods Watershed Protection Project.

Under the Pigeon River plan, the energy industry has been able to recover $700 million worth of oil and gas from wild public lands, while causing a minimum amount of environmental damage.

The Coalition's letter to the Governor was based on a report by the Institute, "Rivers Under Seige," which:

• Provides a thorough case study of the Pigeon River plan.

• Concludes that adopting this approach as a model "will lead to significant resource protection in 11 threatened watersheds."

• Recommends an action plan for modernizing the Pigeon River approach, and convincing the state to adopt it for the public lands of northern Michigan.

The Pigeon River plan was forged after ten years of intense public debate. Less than one-third of the 98,755-acre forest, which lies in parts of Otsego, Montmorency and Cheboygan counties, was opened to drilling. Shell Oil, which managed the development, tapped the oil and gas using directional drilling technology.

Because the wells were kept to the lowest number necessary, the new roads and pipelines cut through the forest were reduced. The industry also agreed to subject most aspects of drilling and exploration to oversight and review by a citizen-led advisory committee.

Despite its proven usefulness, the Pigeon River plan never again was applied in Michigan. This lapse occurred even as the northern lower peninsula became the center of the biggest natural gas drilling boom in state history.

Since 1988, more than 6,000 wells have been drilled into the Antrim Shale formation. The $1.5 billion development, boosted by generous state and federal subsidies, has produced thousands of miles of new roads and pipelines, and hundreds of new compressing stations. Muddy swatches have been cut out of more than one million acres of forest. Rivers and streams in the region's most sensitive watersheds have deteriorated.

At the current rate of development, there could be more than 9,000 Antrim wells in Michigan's North Woods by the turn of the century.

"Rivers Under Seige" proposes reviving the Pigeon River model to protect the watersheds of the following rivers: the Betsie, the Boardman, the Jordan, the Big Manistee, the Elk, the Au Sable, the Pigeon, the Sturgeon, the Black, the Little Wolf, and the Thunder Bay.

Among the steps for each of the watersheds are to:

• Draw up a detailed resolution calling for a hydrocarbon development plan, and distribute the resolution widely.

• Persuade the DNR to conduct a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement on Antrim development.

• Work with state foresters, legislators, and the oil and gas industry to write the hydrocarbon development plan. G

To find out more about this project, or to receive a copy of "Rivers Under Seige," contact the Institute at P.O. Box 228, Benzonia, MI 49616; Tel. 231-882-4723. The report is available at no charge to Institute members, and for $12 to non-members.

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