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Published: Monday, 5/13/2013

Adrian residents air concerns about oil wells in popular park

City officials say they’re confident no public threat looms

BY KELLY McLENDON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Savoy Energy LP workers install a pipeline in a farm field off  Howell Highway in Adrian. City com­mis­sion­ers signed con­tracts with the firm for oil leases of more than 1,100 acres of city-owned land. Savoy Energy LP workers install a pipeline in a farm field off Howell Highway in Adrian. City com­mis­sion­ers signed con­tracts with the firm for oil leases of more than 1,100 acres of city-owned land.
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ADRIAN — Tom Wassmer is familiar with the route that new pipelines will travel to carry oil from Adrian’s Heritage Park and through Beaver Creek, to a central processing facility on the M-52 highway.

Dressed in shorts and sandals fit for hiking, Mr. Wassmer had a digital camera in his pocket and a tan hat to shield him from the sun on a recent warm afternoon at Heritage Park.

The Adrian resident and assistant professor of biology at Siena Heights University frequents the recreational land space for exercise, but he’s followed the oil and gas project nearly since its beginning. Between maintaining a blog and using his cell phone to create a map that outlines the mile-long pipeline route, not a day goes by that some aspect of Mr. Wassmer’s life doesn’t connect to the project.

He’s gone door-to-door in his community, asking neighbors to engage in conversation. He’s helped facilitate a workshop with the Adrian Dominican Sisters in March, which was aimed to explore responses to oil drilling in the area.

But his environmental stewardship efforts don’t end there. All of the work, all of the time, is for a purpose, he said.

“Heritage Park is kind of my safe haven, like a sanctuary,” he said.

But he believes his tranquil escape from reality is about to change, with the introduction of Savoy Energy LP pipelines. Mr. Wassmer and several others from the community, including Dr. Victoria Powell, a Madison Township pediatrician, have been studying the impact of oil and gas production in the Adrian area for many months.

In 2010 and 2011, Adrian city commissioners signed contracts with Savoy, based in Traverse City, Mich., for oil leases of more than 1,100 acres of city-owned land.

Just east of M-52 on North Adrian Drive, Heritage Park, Adrian’s largest community park, is tucked behind a mobile-home court. The park is known for its disc golf course.

Siena Heights biology professor Tom Wassmer talks about the drilling expedition at Heritage Park, the city’s largest  community park and what he calls his sanctuary. Siena Heights biology professor Tom Wassmer talks about the drilling expedition at Heritage Park, the city’s largest community park and what he calls his sanctuary.
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Pipelines from nearby oil wells are to travel through the park to a property known as Witt Farm, where a central processing facility has been built to separate oil, gas, and brine.

Mr. Wassmer said the processing plant’s exhaust could make nearby residents sick. Many of the chemicals involved in the production of oil and gas are regulated by the Federal Clean Air Act.

Some of the pollutants, including benzene, toluene, and ethylbenzene, can cause health problems. Benzene, linked to possible reproductive and developmental effects, can cause confusion, rapid heart rate, headaches, and tremors.

Adrian City Administrator Dane Nelson said last month the city acknowledges residents’ concerns, including health issues.

“I appreciate that they are concerned, as we are concerned with any factory in town or any gas station in town. We always have concern,” Mr. Nelson said, adding that the police and fire departments have reviewed the project to identify potential issues.

Several dozen oil wells have been drilled in Lenawee County in recent years, starting northwest of Adrian and spreading toward — and later southeast of — the city.

Lou Schineman, district supervisor for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s office of oil, gas, and minerals, said the agency takes an active role to address complaints, including noise, odor, and spills, from residents and operators.

“I do not know of any report of complaints at any of the facilities in Lenawee County,” Mr. Schineman said.

Mr. Schineman said he has spoken with geologists who cover Lenawee County, and they say they are unaware of any complaints from residents.

According to documentation from the department of environmental quality, records show four central processing facilities are in Lenawee County and two tank battery sites.

Professor Tom Wassmer takes a photo of a stake marking where Savoy Energy LP will lay a pipeline through Beaver Creek at Heritage Park. Professor Tom Wassmer takes a photo of a stake marking where Savoy Energy LP will lay a pipeline through Beaver Creek at Heritage Park.
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But oil production has not been without problems.

In 2011, an illegal oil dump in Adrian Township resulted in $43,000 in cleanup costs. Six months ago, a Savoy drilling rig in Heritage Park injured a worker when it collapsed during dismantling.

Oil-production plans within city limits have prompted two letters to the city administration and city commission, dated Feb. 22 and April 1, from the Adrian Dominican Sisters.

As the founder and sponsor of Siena Heights University, the Adrian Dominican Sisters order is one of the city’s largest employers.

The letters question many aspects of the project, including whether the city’s leases with Savoy comply with the city code, said Sister Elise Garcia, director of communications and technology for the Dominican sisters.

Also outlined in the documents are questions about the Witt Farm property’s site, which is in a high groundwater recharge area that helps with wells.

Adrian Mayor Greg DuMars said the city responded to the sisters just two weeks ago.

He said the city and the sisters had a meeting time arranged last month, but it was canceled because one of the sisters had to go out of town.

“They know that we’re more than willing to come over and talk with them,” he said.

The mayor said he has no reason to believe that the facilities will pose any threat to the public, and he dismissed the possibility that oil could leak into the area’s groundwater.

A worker was injured about six months ago when a rig like this one collapsed as it was being dismantled in the park. A worker was injured about six months ago when a rig like this one collapsed as it was being dismantled in the park.
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“The oil is approximately 4,000 feet down, and I don’t know of any water wells that are deeper than 200 feet,” Mr. DuMars said.

He said he is open to discussing what is going on with any resident who calls his office.

Mr. DuMars cited Traverse City as another Michigan city that has oil and gas wells on city park property.

“They’ve been taking oil from wells in their parks for over 20 years and have not had one problem,” he said.

How much Adrian might receive in royalty payments depends on how much — and how long — wells on city land produce oil or gas, the mayor said.

“We haven’t gotten any checks. It’s conceivable that we could see $1 million a year from these royalties,” he said.

Any royalties the city receives will be placed in a separate account, Mr. DuMars said.

Potential uses for such money include building a swimming pool or aquatics facility, Mr. DuMars said, or something else that would help the community directly.

“We don’t have any plans to spend the money,” the mayor said. “We’re working on putting together a trust agreement to determine how we might spend royalties that we get.”

Contact Kelly McLendon at: kmclendon@theblade.com, 419-724-6522 or on Twitter @KMcBlade.



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