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E-M:/ Manistee judge shuts down toxic gas well

Enviro-Mich message from anne.woiwode@sfsierra.sierraclub.org

Bravo, both to Filer Township and Chris and Jim, as well as to Judge Batzer
for recognizing just how important this issue is!!  Anne Woiwode



James Espvik, Filer Township Supervisor (616) 723-3138

James Olson or Chris Bzdok, Attorneys for Filer Township (616) 946-0044 


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."

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