Pigeon River drilling part of delicate balancing actadmin
If you want to get an argument from an outdoors type, suggest drilling for oil or gas (or logging) in the Pigeon River State Forest.
The Pigeon ”” where Otsego, Montmorency, Cheboygan and Presque Isle counties meet ”” is the last big bit of old Michigan in the Lower Peninsula, a place where campers can see elk, deer, bears, bobcats and martens. There are 100-year-old white pines, old-growth beech and maple trees. It’s a gem.
As heretical as it may seem, however, a proposal to allow up to 19 Antrim Shale natural gas wells in the Pigeon River management unit can become a reasonable compromise between energy and environment if all sides do their jobs.
The need to find more natural gas is beyond argument. It is the cleanest alternative to coal and fuel oil we have, and it’s drilled right here. The question becomes, then, whether it can be extracted in an environmentally responsible way.
The answer must be yes ”” or not at all.
When Shell Western sold its Michigan holdings two years ago to Merit Energy Co., oil executives signed a consent agreement with the state that would prevent any new wells in an area set aside by the state Department of Natural Resources as the Pigeon River special management unit.
Since that time, about 2,500 acres in Cheboygan County have been annexed to the management unit; it is that area where Aurora Energy of Traverse City hopes to drill. The mineral leases to the land in question had already been purchased by the time the land was annexed.
Aurora says there is precedent there along with the leases. There are existing well sites and flow lines in the area that can be used to minimize the project’s effect on the land, the company says.
“We realize this will have an impact, but it’s about doing it in a prudent way,” Aurora’s Dave Deneau said.
Making Aurora keep that promise will be up to the DNR. And making the DNR toe the line will be up to environmentalists and Pigeon River lovers.
Some have argued that drilling should be delayed until after an ongoing review of a Concept of Management plan approved by the Natural Resources Commission more than 30 years ago is completed. That plan severely limited oil and gas development in the management area.
The DNR has pointed out, however, that even an updated plan won’t affect areas where there has been previous drilling or leases purchased before the recent annexation.
This is all about balancing needs and obligations against the environment. That’s never easy, and it’s tempting to just say no, period, every time. We can’t, in the name of reasonable public policy, do that.