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Anger, concern over petroleum drilling in Scio Township

A natural gas drilling rig in Wyoming. Regulators in Michigan say they're ready to handle more of these drilling rigs.
Bureau of Land Management
A natural gas drilling rig in Wyoming. Regulators in Michigan say they're ready to handle more of these drilling rigs.

"How many of you are here to stop the drilling?" one woman asked the crowd of about 200 at a town forum in Scio Township last night.

Big applause broke out.

It was the first indication that the crowd was not going to be a friendly one for the executives from West Bay Exploration, a Traverse City-based drilling company that has asked several landowners in Scio Township to sign over leases for their mineral rights.

The town forum was billed as an opportunity to "become educated about oil and gas leasing."

But as the forum headed into hour two, the lectures from a panel including a Michigan State University expert, a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality representative, and the vice president of the Traverse City-based drilling company, West Bay Exploration, wound up and the evening centered on frank, often combative questions from the audience.

Among them: If residents should all get their water tested now, before the drilling, how much is that going to cost us? If it's really $800, is the drilling company going to pay to test the whole town's water? Who do they hire to test it? Is it a "neutral third party" that the company picks, or that residents get to pick? 

Outside the forum, John Young said he and his wife are in the process of buying a house in Scio Township. But, he says, they would reconsider that purchase if drilling happens there.

"I definitely would not want this going on next door to me, or in my backyard even. I mean to me it fundamentally comes down to a belief system," said Young. "Like, do you really want to have this going on next door to you?"

Yet others, like David Bower, say they think West Bay Exploration gave a convincing presentation, including a promise that there was no need to use hydraulic fracturing or "fracking." 

Bower says he'll consider signing on with the company, but is doubtful many of the people here tonight will do the same. 

"I think they came with their minds made up. And I think that's a shame," said Bower. "And it was like they had anger in their voice."

Similar drilling is already underway nearby in Saline. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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