Michigan Drilling Rights on the Auction Block

  • A map of the 23 counties where oil and gas drilling rights are up for auction today. (Image courtesy of DNR)

Starting at 9am this morning, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources will hold an auction to lease state-owned drilling rights for oil and natural gas. 

The state is offering drilling rights on more than 108,000 acres in 23 counties.  These auctions are usually held twice a year.  The minimum bid is $12 dollars an acre.

Mary Uptigrove is the acting manager of the DNR’s Minerals Management Section.  She says acquiring drilling rights is the first step in exploring for oil and gas.

“The lease is just a proprietary right that’s administered by our department. It does not give them the right to actually start drilling a well.  They have to seek other approvals from the Department of Environmental Quality for the drilling permit.”

The leases last five years, and the companies have the option to extend them.

Uptigrove says industry groups usually nominate parcels for the auction.  The state gets 1/6 of the royalties of any oil or gas that comes out of the ground.  That money is used to maintain state and local parks and to buy land.

Maryann Lesert lives near the Yankee Springs Recreation Area in Barry County. 

She’s worried the auction will lead to drilling under the park land… especially a kind of drilling for natural gas called horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

“It’s beautiful land, it has beautiful bodies of water and the environmental and water impact threats from fracking are of great concern.”

If drillers decide to go after oil and gas in this area, they won’t be able to set up their drills on the surface.  They’d have to drill from land nearby.

If they use horizontal fracking, they’d pump a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into a well under high pressure to force open rock and extract the gas.

Horizontal fracking can use millions of gallons of water per well.  After it’s used, that water is usually disposed of in deep injection wells. 

Maryann Lesert  is bothered by that idea.

“Those millions of gallons of water per well are never going to return to the area water table, to the area watersheds, to the Great Lakes basin. That’s water that’s gone forever.”

Before any of this can happen… companies first have to pay for the rights to drill and get state approval for their drilling operations.

The state is barred from auctioning drilling rights for some places, including Great Lakes bottomlands and critical sand dunes.

This story was informed by the Public Insight Network.

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This is the Environment Report.

A private club in the Upper Peninsula has filed suit to stop the construction of a new mine in Marquette County.  It’s the first federal lawsuit to stop the project.  Peter Payette reports:

The nickel and copper mine, owned by Kennecott Eagle Minerals, has received permits from the state.  But the Huron Mountain Club says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs to sign off too.

The club owns nearly 20,000 acres of forest downstream from the mine on the Salmon Trout River.

The lawsuit says sulfuric acid produced by sulfide mining could pollute the river, and the club is quote “horror-struck” by the prospect of the watershed collapsing because part of the mine will be dug directly underneath it.

The lawsuit also says the federal government needs to consider the potential for damage to Eagle Rock, a site near the entrance to the mine that is sacred to American Indians.

The mine has been under construction since 2010 and an attorney for the Huron Mountain Club expects Kennecott will argue that it is too late to bring up this issue.

But Rick Addison says it was the company’s decision to build the mine without the necessary permits.

"The lateness argument has no resonance to me, it’s simply the last refuge of the environmental scoundrel."

In a written statement, Kennecott says the mine has been extensively reviewed and already survived multiple legal challenges.

For the Environment Report, I’m Peter Payette.

And that’s the Environment Report for today. I’m Rebecca Williams.