Au Sable River lease sales to oil and gas development causes concern
by Josh Greenberg - Crawford County Avalanche- 21 Nov 2013
A recent state auction of oil and gas leases may allow significant oil and gas development very near the Au Sable River.
Energy giant Encana Gas and Oil acquired numerous leases along and very near the Au Sable River at the auction, which was held on October 28 in Lansing. Encana Gas and Oil has numerous operations in Northern Michigan, some of which are hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") wells near the Manistee River and its tributaries.
"We will vehemently oppose any drilling of any kind, fracking or otherwise, near the river. Or any steps, such as the leasing of these parcels, that could lead us in that direction," said Anglers of the Au Sable President Bruce Pregler.
Of greatest concern to residents and conservation groups are several contiguous parcels that do allow development, though with restrictions, within the very popular Rayburn Tract, as well as along the "Holy Water" section of the mainstream just north of M-72 and west of Thendara Road.
"The Michigan Oil & Gas news reports that the parcels leased in proximity to the Au Sable Holy Waters were auctioned for an average of $29.53 per acre," said Jacque Rose, co-founder of Friends of the AuGres-Rifle Watershed.
In a letter dated October 10, Anglers of the Au Sable president Bruce Pregler wrote to Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Keith Creagh requesting the removal of these and other parcels from the auction. Director Creagh responded that those parcels listed as Development had restrictions in place to insure the safety of the development.
While the sale of leases don't necessarily mean there'll be a well near the river, they do lead skeptics to believe that such development is only an eventuality. Many fear if such development occurs, that the Au Sable river, considered to be one of the finest trout fishing and canoeing rivers in the country, could be threatened.
"We don't feel that the restrictions accurately reflect the delicate nature of the river area, or the dependency folks have on the river for livelihood, or recreation. We also believe that such lease designations completely undermine the Pure Michigan campaign," Pregler said.
Those parcels listed as "Development, with Restrictions" require the lessee to conform to the requirements of each restriction. This can range from Kirtland Warbler habitat, to wetland preservation, to endangered species considerations. Before any development has begun the lessee must also comply with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's own, separate, criteria.