Church Plans to Drill for Oil

Citizens of Southfield brave the cold and hold signs stating “Thou Shalt Not Drill” outside of the property of Word of Faith International Christian Center.  It’s below freezing, but they stand outside for hours early on Sunday morning before church.  They stand around and talk to each other as they try to grab the attention of people driving into the church.  Cars driving by on the street honk and wave to show their support for the protestors.  This occurred every Sunday in front of the church January through March, and in that time three public hearings were also held, all of which were packed with hundreds of people concerned about the proposal to drill.  These hearings consisted of citizens screaming at each other and also at those running the meeting to try to get their opinions heard.  However, in spite of all of these protests, the Department of Environmental Quality has the power to approve or deny the permit proposed by Word of Faith, and as of March 8th the permit has been approved, however, this does not mean that people will give up.

On October 30, 2015, Jordan Development requested a permit from the Department of Environmental Quality Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals after speaking with Reverend Keith Butler about drilling for oil on the Word of Faith property in a forested area on the side of the church that also contains a wetland.  According to Word of Faith, “The well, if oil is discovered, will have a positive impact on the Church and community at large due to the royalty income it will provide and the jobs that will be created.”  In addition, Andrea Stamps, a member of Word of Faith said, “I totally support this blessing that has been bestowed upon us.”  This is exactly how the church sees this drilling, a blessing that God has given them.  The church plans to use this money to give more back to the community, such as through food banks and outreach events which will be determined at a later time based on the revenue.

However, besides members of the church, people don’t seem to support the idea of oil drilling on the Word of Faith property.  The citizens of Southfield started protesting by January, once enough of them had heard the news and developed concerns about having oil drilling in their neighborhood.  Across the nation, at least 15.3 million Americans since 2000 lived within a mile of an oil well.  In addition, there are more than 1,700 active wells in the state with more than 320 in Oakland County.  Under current Michigan state regulations, oil wells can be dug wherever there are less than 40 residences within a quarter mile radius; the proposed drilling site in Southfield has 35.  However, the city also has a moratorium against oil drilling that is in effect until April 28, 2016, which should be able to delay the drilling for the time being.  According to Oakland County Water Commissioner Jim Nash, “Extremely toxic and dangerous chemicals will be coming in and out of the neighborhood” and “the fumes…mixed with car exhaust creates ground level ozone which is a very significant health threat.”  In addition, Southfield Mayor Ken Siver said, “…they can drill right up to the edge of the wetland they just can’t drill in it.”  Siver also said, “If there is oil, there could be multiple wells on the property. Multiple wells mean multiple possibilities for spills.”  House Representative Jeremy Moss said, “I have a lot of concerns about the loss of trees, the chemicals that are used in this process, how close it is to neighborhoods, and what its impact is on water quality…”  Lastly, Bob Chapman, Executive Director of Michigan Interfaith Power and Light, said, “A Christian response to finding oil under your land… [would be] to keep it in the ground.  There is enough out already.”

On the opposing side, Benjamin Brower, Vice President of Jordan Development, said that there will be virtually no odors or fumes, since there are no chemicals used in the process of drilling.  He also said, “We have never one time in the history of Michigan had a leak from a well leak into the water aquifer.”  In addition, Brower said, “There’s hundreds of wells in Michigan maybe even thousands that are drilled in residentially zoned areas.”  He doesn’t believe that residential drilling is different than drilling in industrial areas and doesn’t think citizens should be worried since drilling is very safe.

However, in spite of assurances from Jordan Development, citizens are still concerned.  Grace Alexander, a very adamant citizen and protester, said, “They’re putting us in a position where health and safety is no longer a variable in their consideration.”  She does not feel as though the Department of Environmental Quality will do anything to protect her safety and doesn’t trust that they will closely monitor the well.  Southfield citizen Rosemary Allen stood up in the front at the Department of Environmental Quality public hearing and said, “We will not be silent. We will not allow our community to be used as an experiment”, which was followed by cheers of approval by the others in attendance.  She believes that too much is unknown and that it is not safe to drill a well so close to where many people carry out their lives.

Now that the Department of Environmental Quality has approved this permit, that does not mean the City of Southfield is giving up.  The city has filed a temporary restraining order against Jordan Development in order to prevent the drilling, at least for now.  Also, before the moratorium is over the city needs to work on creating new zoning ordinances in order to prevent the drilling from happening in areas that are not zoned as heavy industrial.  The city also has the ability to appeal this decision by going to court.  Based on the responses from Siver and Moss, it is likely that they will do all they can in order to stop this oil drilling from occurring.  Moss said, “We got one shot at this.  Mankind is really eager to develop, develop, develop without a respect for the earth below it.”

Some of the citizens protesting in front of Word of Faith International Christian Center on February 28, 2016

Some of the citizens protesting in front of Word of Faith International Christian Center on February 28, 2016

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