Rumors of oil have swirled into the Albion College student body this month. Some students have heard that a private company met with college administration to tap into an oil reserve, and that the college would receive a share of the profits. Others thought the tapper was the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
“Not the Army, we’ve been approached and the answer is no,” said Tim DeWitt, Albion College’s director of business and auxiliary services.
Albion was approached by NuEnergy Operating, Inc. — a company centered in Gaylord, Michigan, that operates, drills and sells oil — to discuss the possibility of drilling for oil on property owned by Albion College. The property, known as Briton Acres, is located behind the Held Equestrian Center. College administration spent about three hours with the company, going through seismology readings the NuEnergy had brought with them.
According to a 2004 article in the Morning Star, an oil reserve was discovered in the Albion area in 1957. A reserve is an identified patch of oil that is financially reasonable to recover.
The reserve stretched from Jonesville in Hillsdale County to what is now known as Briton Acres — Briton Acres lies along the thinnest strip of the reserve, which grows farther south in Hillsdale County. By the 1960s, over 700 oil wells could be found along the strip, some of which are still working today. For a time, Albion was dubbed the oil capital of Southwest Michigan.
While oil drilling in the area has dropped dramatically since its boom, NuEnergy told Albion College it believed untapped reserves were still present on Briton Acres.
Albion College saw nothing economically and environmentally reasonable, so they turned down the offer.
DeWitt said NuEnergy is a speculator, and recalling his time working with capital markets and equity groups, he said that interactions with speculators must err on the side of caution. First, the company must hit oil. Then, it must set up a rig. Then it has to pump the oil efficiently. Then it has to make money.
DeWitt added that even if NuEnergy were to successfully drill oil for profit, the lease agreements for that drilling have too many variables that just do not work with the college. There are land leases, open-end leases and leases that allow the company to obtain a percentage of the value they get from each barrel of oil produced.
Albion College already leases a piece of Briton Acres to farmers for agricultural development. DeWitt said he values this relationship much more.
Finally, there are the environmental repercussions.
“We want to be a sustainable institution. We want to be a green institution,” said DeWitt. “And the last thing we need to be doing is engaging in this type of enterprise that actually would potentially increase our carbon footprint.”
In August of 2017, Albion College’s Student Senate passed a climate change resolution recommending that the college embrace eight sustainability initiatives, from divesting in coal production companies to cutting carbon emissions to three-fourths of 2005 emission levels by 2025. During the 2010-2011 academic year, Albion made environmental sustainability the theme of its strategic plan.
DeWitt said that, per NuEnergy, a private property owner adjacent to Briton Acres is signing to allow NuEnergy to drill for oil on their property.
Photos by Beau Brockett Jr.