The following article appeared in the Gaylord Herald-Times in 2009. It documents the events which led to the formation of the Pigeon River Country Association. Used with permission.
Pigeon River Country more than wilderness
July 28, 2009 I By Chris Engle, Gaylord Herald-Times Staff Writer
CHARLTON TWP. - Rules on oil drilling in the Pigeon River Country State Forest (PRCSF) set the standards for oil drilling in the state of Michigan.
Oil and gas development began in the forest in July 1970 with the construction of the Charlton 1-4 site, according to the PRCSF’s Concept of Management of 2007. In the years that followed, controversy over future development led to court orders, consent orders, compromise and legislation - including the 1976 Unit Agreement; PRCSF Hydrocarbon Development Act, 1980 PA 316; the 1980 Ingham County Circuit Court Judgement; and the 1980 Amended Stipulation and Consent Order.
The Consent Order laid out the area of the forest which could be explored for oil and gas. A total of 58 wells have been drilled since then, with 24 wells producing more than 22 million barrels of oil and 95 billion cubic feet of natural gas as of 2005. In that year alone, $1.6 milllion in state royalties was contributed to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and the Fish and Game Fund, according to the Concept of Management.
A group of concerned citizens, outdoorspeople and environmentalists came together in 1971 as the Pigeon River Country Association.
Three years later, the forest was officially established as a special management unit of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, covering more than 100 square miles.
The Pigeon River Advisory Council (PRAC), created during William Milliken’s term as governor and shortly after exploration for oil in the forest began, was charged with regulating oil and gas activity within the forest. The groups worked together in deciding what was best for the forest, and many of the rules the PRAC set forth were rules which were eventually adopted statewide.
Dave Smethurst of Charlton Township is the last original member of the PRAC, and said the intentions of the council are to preserve the natural quality of the place while allowing “tightly regulated” drilling for the benefit of both the oil companies and the state. He’s proud of the council’s accomplishments.
“There was going to be drilling there (in the PRCSF),” he said. “There’s people who say we should have never compromised but that would have led to unregulated oil exploration.”
Smethurst was also involved in the formation of the Pigeon River Country Association.
Among the regulations are orders that allow only the southern one-third of the forest to be explored for oil, while the northern two-thirds cannot be drilled.
Additionally, single wells - and the profits from those wells - are shared with multiple companies to reduce the surface impact to the forest and to wildlife habitat.
Smethurst said that among the rules adopted statewide was the stipulation that drilling fluids, used to supress “gushers” when oil is struck, be captured and trucked to an offsite disposal tank.
Smethurst said all the efforts to protect the forest while working with the oil companies paid off.
“You can drive through the Pigeon today and you don’t know you’re driving through the middle of an oil field,” Smethurst said. “The casual observer can’t see the oil activity.
“It’s been a wildlife success story,” he continued, “and yet it’s a producing forest in regards to oil.”
The Big Wild...
Dale Clarke Franz's "Pigeon River Country" is the definitive history of the region, the people, the wildlife, the resources, the PRCA and the forest!