'Don't Drill the Hills' Group Raises Questions, Builds Awareness About 'Fracking'

One of the group's first successes is a bill introduced in the Michigan Legislature that would give landowners more rights before horizontal drilling occurs.

About 250 people turned out for a town hall meeting in Rochester Hills to learn more about "fracking" and its potential environmental risks and other issues. (Photo courtesy of Don't Drill the Hills)
About 250 people turned out for a town hall meeting in Rochester Hills to learn more about "fracking" and its potential environmental risks and other issues. (Photo courtesy of Don't Drill the Hills)

Area residents who appealed to Oakland County Water Commissioner Jim Nash to bring environmental agency officials together in a town hall meeting on issues related to horizontal drill and enhanced oil recovery methods, called “fracking,”  sent a clear message in Rochester Hills Tuesday night:

“Don’t Drill the Hills.”

It’s more than a slogan. Don’t Drill the HIlls is a nonpartisan grassroots coalition of residents who want to build awareness about what they say are risks to horizontal drilling in high-density residential and K-12 school areas, member Erin Howlett of Rochester Hills said in an email.

About 250 crowded Rochester Hills High School to find out more about fracking. Their concerns have been fueled by recent activity over the past year by Jordan Development Co. and others to lease or buy mineral rights in Rochester Hills, Auburn Hills and Oakland County, where rights thousands of acres have been acquired.

Hal Fitch, chief of the Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals of the Department of Environmental Quality, Michigan’s state regulatory agency, was supposed to speak, but was a no-show. Howlett said that he told Don’t Drill in th HIlls organizers that he was afraid the evening would turn into “an emotional debate.”

Fitch said that he would, however, take part in an informational forum in the area at some point in the future, Howlett said.

Members of the group worry about potential environmental risks associated with fracking, but also have questions about property rights, property values, mortgage and insurance complications, she said.

Fracking is  the common term for slick water horizontal fracturing. The practice involves drilling wells up to two miles into the Earth, then turning the drill bit horizontally to drill up to several miles. The wells fill up with millions of gallons of fresh water mixed with sand, salts and chemicals, which is subjected to intense bursts of pressure to loosen rock formations and release natural gas. Critics of the process fear possible contamination of groundwater resources, as well as concerns about the disposal of the resulting fracking fluids.

Nash, the water commissioner, said in a statement that as more and more water and gas leases are signed in Rochester Hills and Oakland County, “residents need to know how this industry can affect the environment" and water quality.

Don’t Drlll the Hills member Jennine Morris said the group is “looking for balanced information and transparency in the process.”

“The City of Rochester Hills approved leases for the parks surrounding us in December of 2012,” she said in a statement. “We’re still waiting for a hearing or informational forum from the City to help us gather accurate data so that we can make informed decisions.”

The group is working on policy issues on multiple levels of government, including:

  • City level: The group works with with city councils on a package of ordinances to mitigate risks of proposed local oil drilling
  • School level: The group works with the Rochester Community Schools superintendent and board members to gain awareness and transparency
  • State level: Working with legislators  to craft and support legislation to address our various concerns.

The first bill to come out of meetings with state legislators was introduced last week by Republican Tom McMillin HB 5386 would amend  the state’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act by enhancing certain rights for landowners.

DISCUSS: Do you support horizontal drilling in Oakland County? Why or why not?


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