TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- A federal judge yesterday temporarily blocked an energy company from clearing land in preparation for oil and natural gas drilling near a forest and a river.
Judge David M. Lawson issued a preliminary order halting Savoy Energy from cutting timber, building a road, and taking other steps to start the project in the north of Michigan's Lower Peninsula.
Lawson said the order was necessary ''to prevent irreparable harm" and to give the court time to review decisions by the US Forest Service and the US Bureau of Land Management to permit the exploratory drilling.
The Sierra Club and Anglers of the Au Sable, a fishing group, had filed suit to stop the project.
''The courts are showing what Michigan anglers have known all along: that the Au Sable River is one of the most special places in our state and shouldn't be hastily destroyed," said Rusty Gates, a Michigan angler who is president of the fishing group.
The Forest Service permit would let Savoy install a well about three-tenths of a mile from the Mason Tract, a 5,300-acre section of undeveloped woodland. The south branch of the Au Sable River is less than a mile from the proposed drilling site. The Au Sable is considered one of the top rivers for fishing trout in the nation.
Although the tract is state property, the federal government owns rights to minerals beneath it and has leased production rights to Savoy. The company plans to locate its wellhead on adjacent federal land, and to drill underneath the tract at an angle.
If the well is productive, the company plans to install a pipeline and production facility.
Leanne Marten, supervisor of the Huron-Manistee National Forests, approved the permit application in February, saying that the project would not significantly harm the environment.