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Near Miss in the Jordan River Valley

Terra Energy withdraws gas well permits

December 15, 1995 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

The Department of Environmental Quality has received a commitment from Terra Energy to withdraw its permit applications to drill what would have been the first three wells within the Jordan River State Forest. The withdrawal was confirmed in a letter dated December 1, 1995, to the Michigan Energy Reform Coalition (MERC) from Martin Lagina, the Consulting General Manager of CMS NOMECO, Terra Energy’s parent company. Mr. Lagina said in the letter that Terra has "unilaterally and voluntarily agreed to withdraw our permit applications."

The withdrawal came only two weeks after a spokesman for CMS NOMECO told the Michigan Communities Land Use Coalition, (MCLUC), that Terra was committed to drilling the wells. Friends of the Jordan River Watershed, MCLUC, and the other partners in the Michigan Energy Reform Coalition then began a campaign to stop the drilling in the 22,000-acre protected wilderness area. MERC sent a detailed letter to the Department of Natural Resources, the DEQ, and Terra Energy urging a withdrawal from the Jordan Valley. (See attached letter dated 11/21/95).

According to the Antrim County News, Russell Harding, Director of the DEQ, personally contacted Terra Energy and asked them to reconsider their plans to drill. In response, Terra withdrew the permit applications (See attached Antrim County News article).

In Terra Energy’s letter to MERC, Mr. Lagina said, "overall impact on the environment of our activities and the concerns of local residents are significant in the decision making process."

Opponents of oil and gas development in the Jordan Valley, while pleased with Terra’s decision, pointed out that Terra has not committed to abstaining from future drilling in valley. The MERC partners now are encouraging the DNR and the DEQ to work with the Legislature to turn the Jordan Valley Management Plan into binding legislation.

The Michigan Energy Reform Coalition has appealed to Terra Energy and its parent companies to lead a formal industry-wide resolution to abide by the DNR’s Jordan Valley Management Plan. That 1975 guideline, which does not have the force of law, has maintained the valley as an industry-free zone and advocates against drilling there.

Without legal protection, or a voluntary commitment from the oil and gas industry to stay out of the Jordan Valley, there is a risk that developers can take advantage of Michigan’s separation of ownership of mineral rights and surface land rights. In many cases, including some parts of the Jordan Valley State Forest, the mineral rights beneath public lands are privately owned and can be leased without the state’s permission.

John Richter, Vice President of Friends of the Jordan River Valley, says the problem is particularly acute in the Jordan Valley. "There are 39 parcels within the forest where the state owns the land but the mineral rights are privately held," he said. "The same situation could arise again."

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