Rochester has lost out for now on an opportunity that could enrich both residents and its government coffers, allowing a misinformation campaign to scare off two Traverse City-based engineering companies that wanted to lease mineral rights on public land. Community members opposed the lease, which could have led to drilling for oil and gas.
Had the drilling been successful, nearby residents would have shared in royalties that could have also been used to improve services and/or lower tax rates.
The inaccurate information about fracking and horizontal drilling surprised officials from the Jordan Development Company and its partner, West Bay Exploration.
It demonstrates that while facts about the drilling methods are readily available, sometimes rumors and misconceptions can overshadow scientific data.
The leases were overwhelmingly opposed by residents even though fracking, the more controversial of the two drilling processes, was specifically omitted from the negotiations.
Because of the geology of the area under city property, Jordan Vice President Ben Brower says only horizontal drilling is needed to free any oil and natural gas deposits. That's less intensive than fracking, which is the next phase of drilling and involves inserting a 4 1/2 to 5 inch steel casing into the ground and then pushing a solution of water, sand and hydrochloric acid through the rocks to obtain the minerals.
Some of the misinformation used to turn back the proposal included arguments that the drilling would affect water supplies and taint the aesthetics on the surface.
Brower noted that water aquifers are usually 100 to 200 feet below the ground, while mineral drilling goes down a mile or more. He also says any drilling will not touch the landscaping on the surface of the property beyond the small well head.
Even if fracking was on the table - and it wasn't - the process, under proper regulations, is safe. Michigan has a clean, 50-year track record of fracking that has been confirmed in a new University of Michigan study.
Michigan's precious natural resources should be protected and so precautions ought to be taken when any kind of mineral drilling is conducted. Plenty of safeguards are in place.
Because of its lake geography and history with the mining industry, Michigan already has one of the most stringent regulations in the country.
The state requires all chemicals be reported and that fracking discharge be stored in enclosed containers.
New Department of Environmental Quality regulations passed this month should make fracking even safer. Key elements of the requirements strengthen disclosure of chemicals used in the process and heighten protection against damage to waterways and nearby wells.
Brower says his firm is not counting Rochester completely out and that in the future it will give the city another chance to benefit from mineral leasing.
"We're not ready to start drilling in Rochester," he says. "So, we'd rather educate the public, take some time and come back and get a yes vote (from the City Council)."
In the meantime, the leasing of private and public land in other communities continues, including in Rochester Hills, Rochester's next door neighbor.
With most communities in Michigan under economic distress, they should not turn their backs on a potentially lucrative revenue source based on scare tactics and misinformation.