Each month, RMP publishes a detailed recap of oil & gas activity in the Michigan Basin. This edition marks our 14th since our inaugural monthly edition was published in January of 2015. It’s time to follow up on a couple things we reported in 2015. One of the hot topics in our hometown Detroit newspapers and on our Detroit radio stations is the application for the Word of Faith 16-27 well targeting Michigan’s Silurian age Niagaran Reef. Jordan Development out of Traverse City, Michigan filed the application in October of 2015.
What makes the Word of Faith 16-27 oil well different than many other potential Michigan wells is that it’s within the city limits of Southfield, which has a population of nearly 75,000 people. Often times when an application is received for a well in a heavily populated Metro Detroit city, the MDEQ’s OOGM will extend the application review process to hear comments from the public. The MDEQ has sole legal authority to permit any Michigan oil well regardless of symbolic gestures like a moratorium enacted by the Southfield City Council in effect until April 28, 2016. Only a court ordered injunction via lawsuit can stop the well from being drilled if it’s permitted.
The Word of Faith 16-27 well seems to have given the MDEQ pause because of the amount of public feedback received. The MDEQ has already approved the A150100, 1, & 2 applications filed in mid-December 2015. The Word of Faith 16-27 well app was put on file October 30, 2015. Hal Fitch said in an article published January 15, 2016 by CBS Detroit that the MDEQ’s OOGM had received 1,500 comments in support of the well and 30 against.
RMP’s latest copy of the comments is through February 10, 2016. The comments RMP reviewed showed 1,720 comments in favor of the well and 273 comments against the well; that’s more than a 6:1 ratio supporting drilling. The comments used in RMP’s calculation only include those sent to the designated email address for comments. Many additional comments both for & against – and not included in the calculation above – have been sent directly to Hal Fitch and other geologists or officers at the MDEQ’s OOGM. Some comments were even sent to Dan Wyant, Director of the MDEQ, before Governor Snyder accepted his resignation on December 29, 2015.
RMP contends the comment counts alone should not necessarily be construed to be representative of popular sentiment in Southfield. RMP has been a public clearing house for free Michigan oil & gas information since 2012 and what makes us different is that we use data and numbers to support our posts. RMP takes pride in the notion that people use this site to get reliable information and we understand it’s important to use numbers, documents, and data to support any argument. RMP is all about the numbers, which is why we always drill deeper to understand the numbers completely. So why is there more to consider than just numbers in this case? Let’s take a closer look at the more than 1,700 comments received in support of the Word of Faith 16-27 well and what is driving those numbers in this month’s featured story.
Keith Butler’s Word of Faith church is one of the largest mega churches in America with over 22,000 members nationwide. Many of those Word of Faith members are Southfield congregants. That large congregation of followers is being effectively leveraged by Keith Butler to stuff the ballot box in his favor. Archimedes of Syracuse once said: give me a lever long enough and I shall move the world. Keith Butler has a lot of political leverage to garner comments in support of this oil well and in this case he has flexed his muscles to show it.
One of the dogmas of the Word of Faith theology as taught at the Rhema Bible School, where Keith studied the gospel, is to “name it and claim it”. By declaring something verbally, you can claim it; just say the word and you can make it happen. The thing that most frequently seems to get “named” or “claimed” is money or material wealth for the pastor of the church. Keith’s style of preaching is often referred to as “seed faith” or the “prosperity gospel”. In recent YouTube sermons Keith Butler has been focused on finances, which is an area where Keith has done quite well for himself. In this video Keith preaches seed faith to a Tulsa, Oklahoma congregation at the ORU Mabee Center in 1998 and harvests the seeds at the 47 minute mark of the video. If Houston is the brain of America’s oil industry (and it is), then Oklahoma, where Keith cut his teeth preaching, is the heart of America’s oil industry.
Often flamboyant “seed faith” or “prosperity gospel” preachers ask members to send money to the church as a core part of their sermons. Church members are told that if they plant their seed (i.e. give money to the church), riches will come back to them. John Oliver, on HBO’s Last Week Tonight, skewers “seed faith” in this video. John questions whether “seed faith” is less about the teachings of Christ as much as it is about big business with a complete tax exemption under the guise of being a church. While Keith Butler may have done nothing illegal by asking his congregants to flood the comment box at the MDEQ, it’s fair to question if his guiding principles are consistent with those taught by Jesus Christ of Nazareth. It’s fair to ask if Keith’s brand of faith and apparent avarice has influenced his large congregation to skew the apparent support of this oil well for his own personal financial gain.
Many of the more than 1,700 comments received in support of the well are copied from one of three basic boilerplates. Many use some variation of the exact wording shown in the screenshots embedded throughout this post. Some use bullet points or reorganize the paragraph structure and look a little different, but the wording is the same for the most part.
There is nothing illegal about using or providing a boilerplate letter to send to an official to rack up a vote from a real human being. The Michigan League of Conservation Voters does the same thing almost every other week in their weekly emails asking members to send their boilerplate letter about some House Bill or Senate Bill to a Michigan Representative. That’s just an example and is not to single the LCV out, many other organizations around the country do the same thing. The boilerplate letter in support of the Word of Faith 16-27 well clearly specifies royalty income as one of the reasons to support the well. When you consider it’s a boilerplate letter that may have been written by the one man’s organization who would potentially receive that royalty check, it discounts the weight of the letters given Keith’s powerful leverage to generate numbers.
On the other side of the equation, homeowners’ associations have also tried to organize people to provide boilerplate comments and questions to the MDEQ. The groups that oppose the well have used the same exact tactics as the Word of Faith Ministry and it would be disingenuous to claim otherwise. Some of the letters against the well come from Michigan residents that do not live within Southfield and seem to show up wherever people like to gather to protest oil & gas activity.
The Word of Faith 16-27 well will not be hydraulically fractured but it is still considered a “fracking” well by some protesters in Michigan regardless. Groups like EID who are well funded by the API to propagandize recent technological improvements in hydraulic fracturing sciences and ignore negative effects of recent boom activity, have embraced the word “fracking”. Much of EID’s work has helped condition casual observers of oil & gas activity to discount legitimate comments and concerns. A few ignorant jokers or rag-tag pseudo science zealots are successfully used to paint an overshadowing stereotype of anyone who demonstrates concerns about oil & gas development. While there were some unsavory comments against permitting the Word of Faith oil well, it was encouraging to read so many comments against the well that demonstrated a knowledge about oil & gas development and didn’t use the word “fracking” and focused on legitimate concerns.
Many of the comments against drilling the Word of Faith 16-27 well were well written and sincere. There are legitimate arguments to be made by anyone living close the well that does not want it in their community. People nearby don’t want to smell the soot from a flare stack similar to the one in this month’s cover photo. People nearby don’t want to smell the exhaust of the engine that runs a noisy pumpjack around the clock for potentially up to 30 years. People nearby don’t want the noise of drilling and light pollution as drillers drill into the night. People don’t want to lose the habitat for birds, other wildlife, or the trees in a residentially zoned neighborhood that gives special exemption to an industry characterized by a history of malfeasance. People don’t want the eye sore of a noisy pumpjack across from their public park. People don’t want to watch oil tankers stop to fill up for years to come. People don’t want the possibility of ground water contamination. This well offers nothing but downside to so many neighbors nearby. There are many legitimate arguments all Michiganders should be making who think drilling for oil in Michigan is bad for our economy, bad for the environment, holds Michigan back from being energy independent, and hurts job creation in Michigan’s energy sector. RMP makes arguments each month right here about why migrating away from oil as an energy source is good for Southfield, good for Michigan, and good for America.
It is understandable why Keith Butler’s Word of Faith ministry has taken on a spotlight of controversy because of this well application. Any drilling in a populated area for personal royalty income is bound elicit this type of public response. It’s a classic case of one person getting the benefit as many people incur a risk and nuisance. It wouldn’t be the first time the Word of Faith ministry has experienced controversy. The oil industry in general has a long history of controversy and corporate malfeasance and has even gotten away with violent crimes going unpunished because of the deep financial pockets and inside connections to government officials. There is no valid argument to suggest this well is for energy independence rather than private profit while risks and nuisances are borne of the public taxpayers and surrounding property owners. It is understandable that public frustration is coming to a boil in Southfield.
Keith Butler argues differently, however, and lays aside any biblical references on this page that lists a point-by-point narrative of why he believes the well should be drilled. Like many men & women before him who have used a tax-exempt church to create their own personal wealth, Keith leans on his legal rights earned though our publically tax-funded secular government to make his case. Regarding his secular “stop the distortion” defense page, I would like to specifically address point #6 which says:
There is no evidence that we are aware of in the State of Michigan where drinking water has ever been compromised due to oil and gas activity.
The statement above is false. RMP has the only interactive Michigan map on the Internet showing freshwater contamination sites from oil wells that you can see by clicking right here. Our exclusive oil & gas contamination map shows over 200 documented locations where groundwater has been contaminated due to oil & gas wells and production facilities. We also list over 1,700 locations where soil is, or has been, contaminated by oil, gas, and disposal wells on our exclusive map here. RMP has location homepages for every location on our map [like a facebook page for each well] and many have detailed information and media about water contamination plumes and field notes and summaries from MDEQ field geologists. Almost all of the Michigan wells where groundwater contamination has occurred have this in common: they were not hydraulically fractured wells. Most of the wells where ground water contamination has occurred are Niagaran Pinnacle Reef wells that produce oil which are similar to the well being applied for in Southfield. This month’s featured image is the flare stack of the Quinney 1-24 Niagaran well at 11 mile & Napier Road in South Lyon, Michigan. A similar flarestack, pump-jack, condensate tanks, oil & wastewater separator equipment, and flowlines between them all will be standard required equipment for the Word of Faith 16-27 well if it were to get permitted and put on production. The Quinney 1-24 well has been in South Lyon since September of 1986 and will have it’s 30th birthday this autumn.
Coming later this year, RMP will be able to map approximately 4,000 locations where groundwater has been contaminated by oil & gas storage activity. These locations are technically referred to as Underground Storage Tanks but you know them more familiarly as the place where you fill up your gasoline powered vehicle: gas stations. Southfield, for instance, has 436 active underground storage tanks with 48 listed as leaking and impacting Southfield’s freshwater natural resources. RMP cares about those 48 locations in Southfield and the thousands more across the Michigan Basin where ground water is contaminated. Many of those locations don’t receive much press and the contaminated groundwater at those locations does not seem to foment public anger like the Word of Faith well. Southfield also has 158 locations listed as Part 201 contaminated locations that don’t get much attention either. Some examples of current “201” locations in Southfield include carwashes, drug stores, the Home Depot, and even the Southfield Civic Center and no one even bats an eye about them. The MDEQ works to provide information to the public which allows small non-profit organizations like ours to parse and analyze baseline environmental data to help interface with the public and raise awareness for freshwater protection issues across Michigan. Want to help RMP showcase where groundwater contamination really exists? Consider making a tax-deductible donation to our Michigan 501(c)3 by clicking here so we can build more maps using our exclusive Michigan made software to help get the word out.
In conclusion, Keith Butler has done nothing illegal. He has only exercised his rights as an American property owner. It is fair, however, to question his ethics and motivations for personal enrichment given that his personal enrichment will come at an expense to others who share the water and land around him. Keith’s word often focuses on personal wealth and is what is motivating him to lease his land & mineral rights to Jordan Development. Keith’s limousine, his sermons on financial freedom, and his $1.3 million dollar house in Troy Michigan paid for in cash demonstrate his desire for material wealth more than his actions demonstrate a philosophy consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
And Jesus said to His disciples “I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
– Matthew 19:24
To make a long story short, it’s worth considering that nearly 1,700 comments in favor of the Word of Faith 16-27 oil well reflect the sentiment of mainly one person: Keith Butler. The Word of Faith well is only one well in RMP’s Michigan congregation of nearly 65,000 others. RMP takes an interest in every single well in the State of Michigan and we will keep a watchful eye on this one and the rest of the wells in our flock. Hallelujah.
In other news in our February Follow-Up edition of MOGM we circle back to look at Antrim wells being put on a vacuum that we talked about in August of 2015. RMP predicted that many operators would apply to put their Antrim wells on a vacuum but never could have imagined the pent up demand. Since our August 2015 MOGM, there have been over 250 applications for operators to put their Antrim wells on a vacuum. One of the most recent applications included approximately 115 wells. If you do the math, you can see that we could already be into the thousands but there is no easy way to know. The MPSC, the group that governs this nascent application process, has informed me that any operator who files an application is approved 60 days from the date they filed sight unseen unless the MPSC objects.
There is currently no assurance or evidence RMP is aware of that all the rigorous requirements laid out by the MPSC to put a well on a vacuum can be audited or 100% verified. RMP is working with the MPSC’s Travis Warner to get a listing of the wells approved to be put on a vacuum and it does not yet seem to exist as of February 28, 2016. Knowing which wells are approved to be on a vacuum is step one to monitoring and auditing them. This is the biggest story in Michigan oil & gas right now as Michigan has potentially received applications numbering in the thousands of wells in just a few short months. This story is not being covered anywhere in Michigan except for right here at RMP. Stay tuned as we dig deeper and check out our August 2015 MOGM here to learn what we were talking about a few months ago. It is beginning to look like the flood gates to vacuum systems employed in Michigan’s Antrim fields may have overwhelmed MPSC’s ability to keep up but it’s too soon to tell. RMP will keep following this story throughout the year.
Now let’s take look at other Michigan oil & gas activity that occurred in February 2016:
2015 was the slowest year in application and permitting activity in Michigan history breaking the record set in 1931. 2016 so far is off to a slower start than last year. At this time last year, the MDEQ had received 13 applications and so far this year the MDEQ has received 2. At this time last year, the MDEQ had permitted 20 wells and so far this year has permitted 4. Again in 2016 Michigan is off to a record breaking slow pace for new activity. This why RMP continues to shift focus to Antrim vacuum wells, secondary recovery wells (both water injection & CO2 injection), and orphaned or abandoned wells. While new drilling activity has fallen off, Michigan is poised for a resurgence of oil production through CO2 sequestration in the future. CO2 production/capture is a poised to grow in Michigan and with it, there would be a major resurgence in Niagaran oil production in the coming decades from Kaleva to Gaylord along Michigan’s true Niagaran trend line up north. This is hopefully a form of oil production that environmentalists and oil workers can benefit from and compromise on as America makes its slow transition away from gasoline powered vehicles toward fuel cell powered vehicles.
February 2016 – Oil & Gas Wells Published as Plugged
The well pluggings published in February show 16 wells reported plugged this month which are shown below.
February 2016 – Petroleum As % Of U.S. Trade Deficit KPI:
New in 2016! RMP will be tracking petroleum as a percentage of the US trade deficit. RMP mentioned in our December 2015 MOGM that President Obama signed a bill that lifted an export ban on crude oil that had been in place since 1970. RMP will be monitoring the effect of that legislation by monitoring an important economic statistic published by the United States Census Bureau. The data and graph (shown below) come from this website: https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/statistics/graphs/PetroleumImports.html
This stacked-area graph shows how much of the monthly US trade deficit can be attributed to the deficit in petroleum products. The vertical axis shows percent of the U.S. Goods and Services Trade Deficit. The horizonal axis shows a monthly time series from January 2006 to present. The bottom area of the graph shows what percent of the deficit comes from petroleum goods. The top area shows the percent of the deficit coming from non-petroleum goods and services.
Petroleum as a % of US Trade Deficit – December 2015 @ 13.7%. Data for this KPI lags three months behind the current date. The previous month’s deficit was 12.7% which represents a 1% month over month uptick. This number will continue to tick upward in the short term because of actions taken by Saudi Arabia and OPEC but over the long term RMP hopes to see this number go to zero.
The February 2016 Apps to Plugs Ratio KPI:
The apps to plugs ratio is self explanatory. By looking at the number of applications to wells plugged KPI we can see wells coming vs wells going.
2016 Apps to Plugs Ratio KPI:
2 Applications : 46 Wells Plugged
The February Permits to Plugs Ratio KPI:
The permits to plugs ratio is nearly the same as the apps:plugs ratio but with permits instead of applications.
2016 Permits to Plugs Ratio KPI:
4 Permits Issued : 46 Wells Plugged
While the Michigan story people are talking about is the Word of Faith 16-27 oil well application in Southfield, the larger story is that new exploration oil & gas activity in Michigan is basically dead and shows no signs of revival on the horizon. The macro story for Michigan’s oil & gas future, however, is much different. Secondary recovery of oil using carbon dioxide is in its infancy and production numbers in the years to come could rival Michigan’s original hey-day numbers of the 1980’s. Infrastructure development for these types paradigm shifts in an entire industry happen slowly just the same as the adoption of fuel cell electric vehicles will happen slowly. But, the writing is on the wall for a second coming of oil production in Michigan that environmentalists can [hopefully] support. If people demand that CO2 not be released to atmosphere, then that CO2 can be put to use and help Michigan oil workers maintain a living and job while Michigan and America transitions from net importer of oil to a net exporter of oil over the coming decades.
New permits for the week will be published tomorrow February 29, 2016. Will the Word of Faith 16-27 oil well be permitted? Or will it be longer until we find out. Come back next month for the March MOGM to recap oil & gas activity in the Michigan Basin with RMP. Follow @respectmyplanet on Twitter. Like RMP on facebook. Subscribe to RMP’s YouTube channel. Thanks for reading our free monthly publication.