The Word of Faith oil well in Southfield, Michigan is RMP’s top story this month.  This November 2016 Michigan Oil & Gas Monthly is the “what to expect when you’re expecting” edition for Southfield residents. This is because RMP is expecting to find out that the Word of Faith 16-27 oil well is going to be a long-term oil producer.   One year year ago today the top story was that Jordan Development had filed an application to drill an oil well in Southfield, Michigan at the old Duns Scotus property now owned by Keith Butler’s Word of Faith Ministries. It was a big story because many people in the City of Southfield did not want the well and protested it. Keith Butler, however, who owns the mineral rights to the property, wanted to exercise his legal rights to produce and sell his oil. The MDEQ took their time with this well’s permitting process because of the dustup and controversy it caused.   A public comment period was initiated by the MDEQ and an email address was set up for the public to send in comments about the well. Over a thousand comments were received by the MDEQ and RMP posted many samples of those comments in our February 2016 MOGM as we have been following this well’s timeline since it was applied for one year ago.

RMP explained last year that the City of Southfield has no jurisdiction over oil well permitting and the only way to temporarily stop the permitting was to file a lawsuit. So, the City of Southfield filed a lawsuit to stop the well. Soon after, Judge Michael Warren said that the City of Southfield has no jurisdiction over oil well permitting and the well was permitted.  RMP predicted the chronology of events that would play out from the day the application was filed and everything played out exactly as predicted like clockwork.   Now, RMP is ready to go on record with another before it happens prediction: The Word of Faith 16-27 oil well is going to be a producer for the next 30 years and provide Keith Butler with a steady income stream for decades.

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November 5, 2016 picture of the Word of Faith 16-27 oil well into Michigan’s Niagaran formation, which is about 3,000 feet below the surface in Southfield, Michigan.  The Niagaran is Michigan’s most prolific oil producing formation in history.  Michigan’s Niagaran produces oil, natural gas liquids, natural gas, and brine water.   The flare in this picture is burning off hydrocarbons for initial flow back testing.  RMP will not have flowback numbers for this well until sometime in January of 2017.

The Word of Faith 16-27 oil well was drilled in the 2nd half of September 2016 and well completion activities were performed toward the end of October 2016. Currently the well is flow testing as evidenced by the picture to the left of the 30-foot tall flare that sounds like a small jet engine. RMP has included a gallery of pictures & videos of the well at the bottom of this post; you can scroll straight down if you want to skip right to the pictures. The flare in the pictures is one of the indicators RMP is using to speculate that this well is going to be a long-term producer.   Another clue is the strong smell of crude oil that permeates the air as you stand on 9 Mile Road a couple hundred feet south of the wellhead. The third clue is that Jordan is flow testing at all; if Jordan thought it was a dry hole, they most likely would have already said so.   RMP won’t have paper work & initial production numbers to support our speculation until January 2017, but assuming we’re right [and we’re batting about .996 so far with our oil & gas predictions published here] the paperwork is going to show numbers worthy of moving production infrastructure on pad soon. This is why we’re calling this edition of MOGM the “what to expect when you’re expecting” edition. For interested residents, the next paragraphs will explain what you can expect to see (& smell) in the coming months.

What Can You Expect to See Next?

Because this oil well will be the only oil well in Southfield and is isolated from other oil-producing infrastructure, it will need all the equipment necessary to operate as a stand-alone production unit.   The first thing that will happen is the MPSC, who holds jurisdiction of oil & gas production in the Michigan Basin, will issue a PRU# which stands for Production Resource Unit. Then, Jordan will move in equipment necessary to get oil to market whence it can be sold for a profit. All the equipment items necessary for a stand-alone oil PRU are listed and described below in layman’s terms.  Click on any thumbnail image to enlarge it in your browser.

    • pumpjackPumpjack – a pumpjack is the most iconic piece of oil field equipment. It’s a reciprocating piston pump that mechanically helps lift liquids out of the well. It stands about 20 feet tall, 30 feet long, and about 4 feet across.

    • 60212_kelly_et_al_hillsdale-4Oil & Water Separator – an oil & water separator separates the oil from the wastewater just like its name says. Formation fluids are not pure oil; they’re made up of ancient salty seawater mixed with oil similar in concept to Italian salad dressing. Just like Italian salad dressing looks before you shake it, the oil floats on the top and the water sinks to the bottom. The oil separator operates with this concept in mind in that it skims the floating oil off the top of the water to separate the pay product from the waste product.

    • 59811_state_marion_riverside-9Oil tanks & wastewater tanks – metal tanks are used to collect the pay product (oil) and the waste product (wastewater) sent from the separator. Trucks will come periodically to the site to remove the oil & water to their final destinations. Oil will be trucked to the market place and wastewater will be trucked to a Class II injection well where it will be injected back into a subsurface geologic formation. The MDEQ will require a rubber liner underneath the tanks and an earthen berm to be built around the tanks in case of a spill or leaking tank. Leaking tanks and leaking flow-lines are the #1 reason for the unlikely event of groundwater contamination occurring at a well site.  In the 100s of instances of groundwater contamination in Michigan related to oil & gas wells, “fracking” has never once been the cause. This well did not use hydraulic fracturing for completion and statistically speaking has higher odds of contaminating groundwater than a well that did use HF.

  • 59014_lindemann_et_al-10Trucks – trucks will come periodically to remove oil & wastewater. Flow-lines will be routed to the entrance of the well pad where the truck can connect to the tanks because this pad is too small for a large truck to enter. The roads/driveway encircling the pad may be modified so a large 13,400 gallon size truck (similar to what you see filling underground storage tanks at your local gas station) can circle the pad and empty the onsite tanks. The smell of oil should only be strong to area residents when the trucks are emptying the tanks. Most times the smell of oil and exhaust gasses should be mild.

The photo shown below this paragraph was taken on Bacon Road from right here. The well pad in the photo shows an example of everything you can expect to see at the Word of Faith 16-27 well pad in a single photo.  The configuration and foot print of the equipment will be laid out differently because the Southfield well pad is much smaller than well pad shown below. The MDEQ will [most likely] require a flare blind to cover the flame at the Word of Faith well because it’s in such a densely populated area. The flare could *potentially* burn 24/7 for the next 30 years. It would not be surprising for Jordan Development to put a tennis court style fence around the entire well pad so no one can see any of the equipment on the pad. The truth is, if you didn’t know the well pad was there already, you probably never would.

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This photograph of the Lindeman 1-36 oil well in Hillsdale Michigan shows all the standard equipment necessary for a stand alone oil well.   The Word of Faith 16-27 oil well in Southfield Michigan has a much smaller well pad but will need all the same the equipment to produce oil.  Click on the image to enlarge it.  (Photo Credit:  respectmyplanet.org archives)

Could More Oil Wells Be Coming to Southfield?

Now it’s time for some speculation regarding the possible addition of more oil wells in the Southfield area. If this well is a strong producer, like I’m guessing it could be, there could be the potential for more oil wells in the area. Looking at a satellite map of the area I see four potential places additional wells could go to further tap the oil reservoir which is approximately 3,000 feet below the surface:

  • Plum Hollow Country Club – The Plum Hollow Country Club is about 1 mile west of the Word of Faith location and on the south side of 9 Mile Road. This property has ample room for an oil well.
  • Bauervic Woods Park – this park is due south of Word of Faith just on the other side of 9 Mile Road
  • WXYZ & WRIF Studios – the studios of the local ABC affiliate TV station and rock-n-roll FM radio station are approximately a few thousand feet due north of the Word of Faith location. There is ample room on the south side of the studio property for an oil well.
  • Mayor of Southfield’s Office – this could be the most ironic of locations given that the City of Southfield filed a lawsuit against Jordan Development. There is ample property east of Evergreen Road behind the Southfield Police Department for an oil well. I say it’s ironic because it’s funny how the motivation of extra revenue could possibly change a mayor’s (or anyone’s) mind about oil production. Many municipal properties throughout Michigan have oil & gas wells on them to help add extra revenue to their budgets. I would not be the least bit surprised if the City of Southfield has a coming to Jesus [pun intended] about changing their mind toward oil production in future months because of the Word of Faith 16-27.

RMP does not have access to the 3D seismic information Jordan Development used to “see” the oil reservoir.   RMP does not know which direction the oil reservoir that lies beneath the surface goes or doesn’t go. But, should the Word of Faith 16-27 show good numbers, it is very likely more wells could be used to drain the reservoir should nearby property owners choose to exercise their mineral rights.   It could be more enticing for nearby property owners to lease their property knowing that the prospects of an additional revenue stream are more likely.

Environmental & Health Concerns

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Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) is a deadly gas that is sometimes encountered when drilling oil & gas wells into Michigan’s subsurface.  The Word of Faith well did not encounter any H2S as far as RMP knows.  If the MDEQ expects H2S based on their extensive knowledge of Michigan’s subsurface geology, they have stringent requirements for ensuring public safety.  This picture shows a warning to people arriving at a well pad in Beaver Creek, Michigan.  This picture is just an example of what you might see at a well where H2S might be encountered.

Risks to health and the environment are low from this oil well. The #1 thing to worry about with any well in Michigan is H2S, which is the chemical signature for Hydrogen Sulfide. H2S is a deadly gas that smells like rotten eggs and is sometimes called sour gas. The Word of Faith well does not pass through any sour subsurface zones and there is negligible risk of H2S from this well. If there is a possibility of H2S, the MDEQ will require the operator to have a detailed safety plan in place in case there is an H2S release to atmosphere. Nearby residents would also be informed if H2S was encountered.

Michigan oil & gas

This picture shows 3 groundwater-monitoring wells in Northern Michigan in the Au Sable watershed.  This picture is from a Merit Energy oil well near Twin Lake and, ironically, just south of the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies.  At this oil well location there are multiple groundwater-monitoring wells. This location is in RMP’s exclusive database of known groundwater contamination oil & gas well sites.  Just to the right of these groundwater-monitoring wells is a “sparge hut” which helps to remediate the contaminated groundwater.  There are dozens more groundwater-monitoring wells at this location to help the MDEQ delineate the contamination plume.

The #2 concern, and why RMP monitors oil & gas activity, is for the potentiality of groundwater contamination. Clues that RMP volunteers look for when observing oil or gas wells from a safe & legal distance are groundwater-monitoring wells.   When the MDEQ has concerns about groundwater contamination they will drill groundwater-monitoring wells and take soil-boring samples. The monitoring wells are covered by a 5 inch by 5 inch blue square case or similar green casing that protrudes about three feet above the ground’s surface.   When you see many of these groundwater-monitoring wells surrounding a well pad, it is a good clue that something could be wrong. The MDEQ will drill many of these wells when they’re trying to delineate a groundwater contamination plume beneath the ground surface. If you see these wells sticking out of the ground around the Word of Faith 16-27 well, let RMP know by leaving a comment below and we will FOIA request the sampling information that corresponds with the wells to see if there is any contamination that exceeds part 201 criteria.   It is possible the MDEQ could drill monitoring wells as a precaution to monitor groundwater, so don’t panic if you see one.   As I said, these wells are only a clue to investigate; nothing can be inferred from just seeing them.

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This picture shows the bottom of an oil tank & its drainage piping.  This well site is in Michigan’s St. Helen Unit east of Houghton Lake.  You can see clearly the rubber liner that is beneath the tank that acts as a containment measure should the tank or piping spring a leak.  RMP has tens of thousands of pictures of oil & gas infrastructure in Michigan so why not choose a picture with a turkey in it so close to Thanksgiving, right?  Oil tanks and the flow-lines that connect them are the #1 cause for groundwater contamination from hydrocarbons in the Michigan Basin.  Most instances of contamination come not from an above ground tank like this one, but from underground tanks at your local gas station.

More groundwater contamination from hydrocarbons comes from underground storage tanks (USTs) than any other part of the oil & gas industry. Southfield currently has 60 UST locations and 48 leaking UST locations (LUST’s). Think about all the focus this one oil well has received and how little focus those 48 locations with confirmed contamination in Southfield have received. There are literally thousands of active LUSTs in Michigan.   RMP is trying to raise awareness about USTs and LUSTs because they are a real issue of concern where hydrocarbons meet groundwater. RMP advocates for the responsible migration away from crude oil as an energy source and the adoption of Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles powered by Hydrogen. FCEVs will allow us to be energy independent, create jobs, and stop contamination of groundwater resources from liquid hydrocarbons. We can even make our fuel from landfill waste, which could eliminate or reduce landfills altogether which are a serious threat to our groundwater and a large source of greenhouse gas emissions; FCEVs are a win-win solution in this regard.

Final Thoughts

RMP will always be on guard to watch over and protect Michigan’s freshwater natural resources to the best of our abilities.   After studying oil & gas production in Michigan for many years, RMP has determined that while oil wells do pose a threat to groundwater, that threat pales in comparison to so many other threats that get so little attention.   While oil well construction and monitoring must be done with vigilance, RMP is comfortable saying oil wells rank lower on the list of threats to Michigan’s freshwater resources than many other things.   Farms, dry cleaners, car washes, gas stations, large petroleum storage facilities, oil & liquid hydrocarbon pipelines, military bases, landfills, manufacturing facilities, and more all rank higher as a threat to Michigan’s freshwater natural resources than oil & gas wells. RMP can support these statements with data because that’s what we do; we use data driven science to support our points.

RMP remains committed to looking after Michigan’s great outdoors and helping the MDEQ where we can to identify threats related freshwater wherever it might occur; this includes oil & gas wells.   With regard to Michigan’s OOGM, their ability to monitor and provide surveillance to Michigan’s oil & gas producing infrastructure just got harder because of the falloff in oil prices. Michigan’s OOGM receives funding as a function of oil sold to market. Because oil prices have fallen so dramatically and stayed low for over a year, it is hampering the OOGM’s ability to stay funded to help protect Michigan’s environment. For the first time in a long time, Michigan’s OOGM received funding from Michigan’s general fund which speaks to seriousness of a falloff in Michigan oil & gas activity.

Next month, RMP will detail funding issues with Michigan’s OOGM as our top story and explain the stressed funding situation and take a closer look at Governor Snyder’s 2017 budget for Michigan.  The MDEQ, in RMP’s opinion, is the most valuable asset Michigan has with regard to environmental protection.  The MDEQ is Michigan’s most vital institution for protecting our beloved natural resources and it’s up to us to audit, shape, help, and support the MDEQ.  I hope you will help support the MDEQ or join their ranks or volunteer to help them in their objective to protect Michigan’s environment.   The MDEQ is a public institution here for the good of Michigan’s natural resources. If you find fault with the MDEQ, you can apply for a job there or volunteer to help them if you truly want to make a positive difference for Michigan.  Arm chair environmentalists who take pot shots at the MDEQ without understanding the rigors and challenges of looking after every square inch of Michigan’s land and water are not helping protect our natural resources.  While it’s important to hold our MDEQ accountable, it’s also important to be fair and understand what a tough job they have.  Ask not what our MDEQ can do for your Michigan, but what you can do for our Michigan DEQ.  Be the difference with your actions.  Become a public servant if you think you can help.

Finally, as promised, below RMP has provided a gallery of pictures and videos of the Word of Faith 16-27 oil well. Some of the pictures are from November 2015 and some are from November 2016. Thanks for reading and we’ll see you next month.  Click on any picture to enlarge it and open a photo gallery.

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November 2015 picture of stake marking the future location of the wellhead for the Word of Faith 16-27 oil well.  The picture below is the same view 1 year later.

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November 2016 picture of the Word of Faith 16-27 wellhead with trees cleared.

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November 2015 view of stake marking the corner of the forthcoming Word of Faith 16-27 well pad.  The picture below is the same view as this picture one year later.

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November 2016 picture of Word of Faith well pad from same location as previous picture one year later.

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November 2015 picture of stakes marking the forthcoming entrance of the Word of Faith 16-27 well pad.  The picture below is from the same view one year later.

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November 2016 view from Word of Faith 16-27 well pad entrance. The picture is taken in the same location as the previous picture a one year later.

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Close up zoom of the flare burning off hydrocarbons at the Word of Faith 16-27 oil well in Southfield, Michigan. Click this or any image to enlarge.

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Picture of flare on Word of Faith well pad through the woods. Just a few more leaves left to fall before the flare and pad equipment would be easier to see from 9 Mile Road.


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