After Almost Four Years Of Review, Township Officials Decide They Have Limited Power Over Fracking
After four years of studying the issue and getting legal advice, Saugatuck Township officials came to the conclusion the township has limited power to wield regarding fracking; it could, at the very least, institute some ancillary protections by means of broad regulatory language that includes all oil and gas drilling in general.
The Saugatuck Township Board voted to make those changes and additions to the township’s ordinance (new zoning sections 40-741 and 40-742 and amendments to section 40-1046) at its February 1 meeting.
The township cannot regulate the actual oil and gas wells, but can regulate oil and gas well storage and processing, features usually off site from the wells themselves.
“It started out as a fracking issue, but we were also conscious of those in the industry that could say, ‘You are targeting this specific group,” said Saugatuck Township Clerk Brad Rudich.
“We wanted to protect the township, but also didn’t want to get sued by somebody looking to do some drilling (using the fracking method).
“The last year we shied away from designating it as fracking and lumped it in with the oil and gas industry to regulate it as one,”
Hydraulic fracking is the method of oil and gas extraction that involves injecting water, sand and chemicals, at very high pressure, deep beneath the ground, causing rocks to fissure and allows gas to flow out.
The procedure is controversial.
Critics such as the environmental protection group Food and Water Watch states on its website: “Fracking is an unsafe process that harms our drinking water and health. The push for fracking hurts communities and worsens climate change.”
Rudich, along with some Saugatuck Township Planning Commission members, formed a subcommittee studying the issue. Legal counsel assisted, previously, Attorney Sherry Batzer along with students of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School and more recently with Attorney Nick Curcio of the Dickinson Wright firm.
“The State of Michigan is the one that has oversight of actual drilling and permitting of wells,” said Rudich.
“Even if we wanted to put an ordinance together to supersede that, the state could say, ’No, that’s for us to look at.’ However, we have ancillary aspects we could regulate—outdoor buildings, storage, noises, hours of operations, etc., to make sure we at least had control on our end,” said Rudich.
Asked if she was concerned about fracking in the township, Saugatuck Planning Commission Member Kathleen Miller Cook, also part of the subcommittee that studied the issue, noted, “I am not an (geography or land use) expert, but I don’t think we have that type of area within the boundaries of the township. There are some oil wells, lots of old ones (non-fracking) that have been capped.”