Due to concerns about the use of hydraulic fracturing as a means of extracting natural gas deposits found deep underground, Michigan lawmakers have proposed legislation to regulate the use of groundwater in fracturing activities and to stop the process while it’s being studied in other states.
Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as “fracking,” is a well stimulation process used to extract underground resources, including oil, natural gas, geothermal energy, or water.
It is used by gas producers to stimulate wells and recover natural gas from sources such as coal beds and shale gas formations, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The process uses thousands of gallons of water, mixed with chemicals and sand, to create fissures in rock formations to release oil and natural gas.
A study conducted by the EPA in 2004 concluded that there was little-to-no risk of fracturing fluid contaminating underground sources of drinking water.
In 2005, Congress exempted hydraulic fracturing from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
Since then, however, there have been complaints of water contamination following the use of fracking in several states, including Wyoming and Pennsylvania.
According to Dave Davis with the state Department of Equality’s (DEQ) Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals, western Oakland County has 186 wells that are permitted in the area, including in Milford and Highland townships.
The potential threat has led to a package of bills — House Bills (HBs) 5149, 5150 and 5151 — being introduced by state Reps. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), Mark Meadows (D-East Lansing), and Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids).
State Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield, Commerce, Wolverine Lake) is also a co-sponsor of the bills.
According to Irwin, the bill he is sponsoring — HB 5149 — requires oil and gas companies to follow the same rules as all other citizens with respect to water use.
“The law says that if you use more than a certain threshold of water, then you need a permit for use and to make sure that you’re not negatively affecting your neighbors or the surrounding waters,” Irwin said. “Some of the chemicals they are pumping in at high pressure (during fracking) may be toxic and poisonous, and the pipe goes far and wide through the water table and other properties. There is the potential for error and harm.”
The other two bills in the package go together. One requires a one-year study to be conducted in order to look at the best practices of hydraulic fracturing in other states around the country. The other requires a one-year moratorium on fracking while that study is being conducted.
Irwin hopes this will ensure that Michigan’s regulations concerning hydraulic fracturing meet the best practices to protect the state’s water resources.
“I’m supporting the entire package because the water resources in Michigan are of tremendous import to the state,” Irwin said. “We want to make sure that as people are drilling and mining and engaging in this type of activity, that it is safe for the other residents as well as the other nearby streams, and rivers, and lakes that are so important.”