Southfield Mayor Ken Siver is expecting a large turnout at tonight's public meeting on a hotly debated oil and gas drilling proposal.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is holding the meeting to get more public input about whether the MDEQ should grant a permit to Michigan-based Jordan Development Corporation, LLC to drill for oil and gas on Southfield land owned by the 14,000-member Word of Faith International Christian Center.
Harold Fitch, Chief of the MDEQ's Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals, said MDEQ has already received about 1800 comments, both for and against.
Fitch said the MDEQ has to consider constitutionally protected property rights, and "we have to weigh that against the protection of the environment, natural resources, and public health and safety."
He said MDEQ's decision will not be based on a referendum of those opposed and those in favor of the project.
"We have a system of laws," Fitch said. "And if an activity meets the criteria of the laws, it's permitted. If it doesn't, it's not permitted. So that's really the basis of our decision. I'm not sure what we may hear tonight. Probably quite a range of opinions. But it's going to take more than somebody just saying, 'I don't like the well.'"
Fitch could not say when the MDEQ would issue its decision whether to grant the permit. He said the timing would depend on whether new information emerges at the meeting that needs to be examined.
Southfield Mayor Siver said he is against the proposed drilling because of environmental concerns, and noted the Southfield City Council has passed a moratorium on oil and gas drilling within the city limits.
"We do not want drilling in a residential area, especially one where people are deriving water from the ground and where we have some very sensitive environmental spaces including wetlands," said Siver.
Siver said if MDEQ grants the permit, Southfield will seek an injunction.
Benjamin Brower, Vice President of Jordan Development, said he would attend MDEQ's public meeting tonight in order to listen.
"We are confident because it's our business that we can do the project in an environmentally friendly manner without any issue at all because we've done it before," Brower said. "And so we're confident we can do it again."
According to Brower, Jordan Development operates about 450 active wells in Michigan, a handful of which are in Southeast Michigan.
Brower said that public is protected by Michigan's stringent environmental regulations.
"The rules are if you meet criteria, they will issue the permit," said Brower. "And in our opinion, we meet the criteria."
Minister Andrea Simpson of the Word of Faith church says proceeds from the project, if the permit is approved, will be used for good works and could help the church reach more youth with summer programs.