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Drilling plans near Ann Arbor met with opposition

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — A standing-room-only crowd of more than 300 people turned out for a meeting about plans to drill for oil or natural gas in an area west of Ann Arbor, with many expressing opposition to any drilling.

Traverse City-based West Bay Exploration Co. performed seismic testing in September and has been moving forward with drilling plans. Some residents of Washtenaw County's Scio Township are being asked to give up mineral rights and there's concern wells might come despite opposition.

Dorothy Nordress, one of the founders of the Grandmas Opposing Oil Drilling in Scio, said her primary concerns were environmental and she wished more time and energy would be put toward exploring solar or wind energy rather than new oil wells.

"I realize that we are still going to be dependent on oil but people ought to be able to say 'No, I'm against it, it's not good for the climate or for the environment,'" she said.

Some attendees expressed frustration at current state and federal laws, which set the stage for drilling to be allowed in the area, The Ann Arbor News reported (http://bit.ly/1iUAfv3 ). West Bay, however, said it hopes to follow up to address residents' concerns.

"One thing we do is take them on a field tour of our field in Jackson to show them how small our footprint there is and how little impact we have," said company Vice President Pat Gibson. "It sounds ugly, but it's really less intrusive than that."

The Michigan Zoning and Enabling Act, for example, states that an ordinance "shall not prevent the extraction, by mining, of valuable natural resources from any property unless very serious consequences would result from the extraction of those natural resources."

"At the end of the day, there should be more of an ability for a local community to have an impact on the accessing of natural resources and more of an ability to regulate them," said state representative Gretchen Driskell, a Saline Democrat, who moderated the event.

West Bay now controls mineral rights to about 1,000 acres in Scio Township, the newspaper reported. Gibson said that his company doesn't engage in hydraulic fracturing, a method of pulling oil and natural gas from deep underground known as "fracking" that attracts opposition.

"We're willing to put it in our lease that we will not hydraulically fracture," he said.

In addition to company officials, representatives from the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and a Michigan State University Extension professor specializing in mineral rights were part of the meeting.

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Information from: The Ann Arbor News, http://www.mlive.com/ann-arbor

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