FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
James Espvik, Filer Township Supervisor (616) 723-3138
James Olson or Chris Bzdok, Attorneys for Filer Township (616) 946-0044
JUDGE ORDERS TOXIC GAS WELL SHUT DOWN IN MANISTEE
At a hearing Monday in Manistee County Circuit Court, Judge James M. Batzer ruled that a natural gas well containing high concentrations of the deadly gas hydrogen sulfide could not be operated until the state legislature issued standards that, in Judge Batzer's words, would provide "strong assurances" that the public is protected from the dangers of an accident.
The well, known as the "Della Pia 1-22," is located in a rapidly growing residential area of Filer Township, just south of the City of Manistee. The formation in which the natural gas is found contains pressurized hydrogen sulfide, a gas with roughly the toxicity of cyanide, at a concentration of 43,000 parts per million. This concentration is 143 times the lethal level designated by the federal government, and 48 times the concentration of hydrogen sulfide in a well in nearby Parkdale Township where an accident in August of 1996 sent eleven people to the emergency room.
The well, now owned by Michigan Production Company, was drilled by a previous owner in 1990, then temporarily "shut-in" with cement. Filer Township filed suit against the owners of the Well in 1997 to have it permanently plugged and abandoned because of the danger its proposed operation posed to residents of a neighborhood near Lake Michigan.
Monday's hearing came because both the Township and Michigan Production Company filed motions to have the suit summarily decided in their favor. Judge Batzer found that the possibility of an accident, which the defendant conceded to be at least one in four hundred, posed an unacceptable danger to nearby residents, including many children, given the high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide which could be released. He also found that no state regulation existed to adequately protect the public from the dangers of oil and gas wells containing hydrogen sulfide. The judge then ruled that without adequate regulation, the risk posed by the well was a legal nuisance and violated the Michigan Environmental Protection Act.
Based on his rulings, Judge Batzer granted the Township's motion and issued a permanent injunction. He ordered that the well may not be re-opened or operated until Michigan Production Company can prove that the state legislature has changed the law to provide "strong assurances" that public health and safety will be protected from the dangers of hydrogen sulfide, and that it can meet those assurances.
"This case is an important victory in our battle to protect the people who live in this Township from hydrogen sulfide," said James Espvik, the Filer Township Supervisor. "We applaud the judge for recognizing that while oil and gas development is important, the safety of homes and families absolutely must come first."
The Township was represented by Traverse City attorneys James Olson and Chris Bzdok. Olson said the decision would have importance beyond a single well. "We believe the real meaning of the judge's decision is that hydrogen sulfide wells located in residential communities are a nuisance without a very high level of health and safety protection in placeCin fact, some wells are simply inappropriate for some areas. Judge Batzer has called on the legislature, civic leaders, and citizens to comprehensively address an issue that has been ignored far too long."