A new form of oil drilling, called fracking, is gaining popularity across the United States and Canada. The oil industry is obviously for it and most environmental groups are firmly against it.
There are several companies that are looking into opening such well operations in Michigan. So meeting Monday’s, for the Dexter Planning Commission, was dominated by the possibility of drilling for oil and natural gas in Dexter.
“We’ve talked about this for a couple of meetings, but we’re getting much closer,” Commission Chairperson Matt Kowalski said.
The first part of the meeting concerned regulations in the master plan on how to regulate it. Mostly by limiting where it could and could not occur. The Planning Commission voted unanimously to send a draft amendment to the city council.
This does not mean that the Planning Commission approved the draft. The council members said that they sent it to council to provide them with formal context for what they were thinking about. This amendment will be still debated and revised at least until next month’s meeting.
This type of drilling is governed by the 1994 Michigan State Law PA 451: The Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act. Drilling is an open question, legally, in Dexter. As the amendment pointed out, “the current Master Plan does not specifically address oil and gas wells and associated ancillary uses.”
The second part of this meeting was a formal update on “oil and gas zoning.” Certain areas of Dexter are zoned R1-D1. These are properties zoned for light industrial use or R & D. If oil drilling is going to be allowed in the city, legal advice suggested these zones.
Various other ideas for zoning out oil drilling in Dexter were floated around, including “natural rivers” protection. Commission members said that although most of the Huron River is given some environmental protections, it does not include Dexter.
The legal counsel advised that the City of Dexter does have some advantages if it were to make a legal challenge to a well operation. State law doesn’t allow counties or townships to challenge a well operation. But a city could.
Ultimately, the legal counsel said the board can make any reasonable regulations for land use. Arbitrary zoning standards cannot be done however. All regulations need to have solid, neutral reasons behind them. Currently, some R & D zoned lots are still available, possibly for drilling.
“If I could put my lawyer hat on,” Planning Commission member Jim Carty said. Carty said that Michigan “has a long, long history” of supporting industrial interests in case law. But, Craty said, the exception of that was when it came to protecting water.
“If you were going to pick a fight, that would be the one,” Carty said. “And if you were going to pick a fight, you’d want it to be in a situation like this.”
Given that Dexter is surrounded by water, he argued, they had a shot. And Carty said that the case law supporting industry in Michigan, was strong, “none of it is in this context.”