Dexter Planning Commission Hears Presentation on Oil Drilling

Dexter residents and members of the city’s Planning Commission got a crash course on oil and gas drilling rules and regulations Dec. 7.

The Planning Commission held a work session to devote time to the topic as it will be rewriting ordinances covering natural resources. The talk by a representative from the Department of Environmental Quality sparked lively questions from the commission and the audience.

The meeting was supposed to be a panel discussion with the DEQ and an oil exploration company, but the latter declined an invitation to attend.

So that left matters to Jack Lanigan, senior geologist, for the DEQ’s Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals, to explain how his agency regulates drilling and production in the state.

The agency monitors more than 13,000 active wells out of 61,000 permits issued since the office began in 1926. The agency has 54 workers, of which 29 are field geologists in eight offices.

In Washtenaw County, there are 287 permitted well locations of which are 46 oil wells (34 active) and 12 natural gas wells (1 active), 27 gas storage (5 active), 2 mineral and other wells, 171 dry holes and 28 not drilled (7 waiting).

The county produced 282,864 barrels of oil per year, mostly from Salem and Saline townships. Scio Township has six wells, Webster five and Dexter Township two wells.

Michigan sits on an area that was once an inland sea with the bedrock foundation resembling a bowl. Some land areas in Michigan were once the tops of pinnacle reefs when the area was mostly under water, Lanigan said.

Fracking is not an issue in southern Michigan as the limestone is naturally fractured, he said.

Lanigan’s office oversees Part 615 of the state’s Natural Resources Act of 1994.

“We regulate the permitting process,” Lanigan said. “We keep records forever.”

The permitting process requires a company to secure the mineral rights through purchase or leasing and be able to prove they have the documents before a permit is issued.

“We inspect the site, if it checks out we issue a permit,” Lanigan said.

If local or federal permits are required, the company must secure those as well, but the office only enforces its rules, Lanigan said.

When the company comes in to drill, it must build a pad of about an acre for the drilling and support equipment. A trailer housing two employees is manned 24 hours a day.

Unlike the movies, a gusher is the last thing a drilling operation wants to see.

“There is equipment set up to prevent blowouts,” Lanigan said.
Wells are drilled about 7,000 to 8,000 feet deep (and likely more) to a depth 100 feet below the last aquifer of freshwater. Once oil is found a metal shaft is placed and then encased in concrete.

Whatever the amount determined of concrete is needed, the company doubles it to ensure the shaft is sealed off.

The field inspectors will view drilling wells anywhere to from every three days to daily, and completed wells twice a year. The drilling community is close-knit so in the case someone doesn’t report a spill, other firms will alert Lanigan’s office of a problem.

“Operators have to report spills within 24 hours,” Lanigan said. “They can’t hide spills.
“For spills less than a barrel (42 gallons), they have less than eight hours to report it.”

For those concerned about contamination of groundwater, wells have to be at least 300 feet away from a well and 2,000 feet away from a community well, Lanigan said.
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The Planning Commission will review Lanigan’s report as it endeavors to create new language regulating oil and gas drilling within city limits.

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