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Michigan Township Association leery of fracking moratoriums

Steven Depolo

The Michigan Township Association says townships that pass fracking moratoriums could be on shaky legal ground.

Scio Township passed a six-month moratorium on well drilling activity earlier this week, as part of an effort to stop an oil and gas company from looking for deposits in the township.

Catherine Mullhaupt  is the Association's Director of Member Information Services.

She says the Association's legal counsel believes the state alone can deny or issue permits for oil and gas drilling, otherwise known as "fracking."  That goes for gravel mining, too.

"Your neighbor could have a gravel mine and an oil well in his or her back yard, and there's not a darn thing you can do about it," says Mullhaupt.  "Because these are special interests.  They have special protections from zoning."

A Traverse City group called FLOW says townships can use a public trust argument to shut down drilling activities.  The group also believes temporary moratoriums can be enacted.

"We think that's cutting edge," says Mullhaupt.  "It's really out there yet, in the sense that we don't have specific statutes in Michigan to support that approach.  Our position has been you're really on shaky ground with a moratorium."

Mullhaupt says townships are being placed between a rock and a hard place by residents fearful of the potential harm of fracking.

"(It's) come down to an emotional demand - 'but you must do something.'  I think that's probably what's brought this to the forefront, I think that's what's happening in Scio Township," says Mullhaupt.

West Bay Exploration, the company exploring for natural gas and oil deposits in Scio Township, says its activities are done in an environmentally safe manner.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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