Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

November 9, 2013

Another View: Local cities could reap riches from drilling

Rochester has lost out for now on an opportunity that could enrich both residents and its government coffers, allowing a misinformation campaign to scare off two Traverse City-based engineering companies that wanted to lease mineral rights on public land. Community members opposed the lease, which could have led to drilling for oil and gas. Had the drilling been successful, nearby residents would have shared in royalties that could have also been used to improve services and/or lower tax rates.

The inaccurate information about fracking and horizontal drilling surprised officials from the Jordan Development Co. and its partner, West Bay Exploration. It demonstrates that while facts about the drilling methods are readily available, sometimes rumors and misconceptions can overshadow scientific data.

The leases were overwhelmingly opposed by residents even though fracking, the more controversial of the two drilling processes, was specifically omitted from the negotiations.

Because of the geology of the area under city property, Jordan Vice President Ben Brower says only horizontal drilling is needed to free any oil and natural gas deposits. That’s less intensive than fracking, which is the next phase of drilling and involves inserting a 4½- to five-inch steel casing into the ground and then pushing a solution of water, sand and hydrochloric acid through the rocks to obtain the minerals.

Some of the misinformation used to turn back the proposal included arguments that the drilling would affect water supplies and taint the aesthetics on the surface. Brower noted that water aquifers are usually 100 to 200 feet below the ground, while mineral drilling goes down a mile or more. He also says any drilling will not touch the landscaping on the surface of the property beyond the small well head.

Even if fracking was on the table — and it wasn’t — the process, under proper regulations, is safe. Michigan has a clean, 50-year track record of fracking that has been confirmed in a new University of Michigan study. ...

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