Apprehension about west Oakland lakefront properties recently being leased for gas and mineral exploration and an acclaimed documentary have some lakes area residents and officials worried about the potential negative impact of hydraulic fracturing on groundwater and surface water resources. State lawmakers have picked up on these public fears and sponsored a series of bills to address the controversial extraction process more commonly known as “fracking.” As is often the case with a legislative package, we find some of the bills’ provisions to be worthy of approval, and others to warrant no action.
Fracking is a process used to stimulate wells and recover natural gas or oil from sources such as coal beds and shale gas formations, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). During fracking, millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals and sand are injected under high pressure into shale formations to create fissures, which release resources in the rock and allow them to flow back into the well.
Concerns about the fracking process have prompted the introduction of five bills in Lansing known as the “Frack Pack.” Three of the bills — House Bills (HBs) 5149, 5150 and 5151 — were co-sponsored by state Rep. Lisa Brown (D-Commerce, West Bloomfield, Wolverine Lake).
HB 5149 requires oil and gas companies to follow the same rules as all other citizens with respect to groundwater withdrawal and use. HBs 5150 and 5151 go together: One requires a one-year study to be conducted in order to look at the best practices of fracking in other states, while the other requires a one-year moratorium on fracking in Michigan while that study is being conducted.
Two other bills, HBs 4736 and 5565, are also a part of the “Frack Pack” and would require companies to assume liability for any spills or mishaps and to disclose what chemical additives they are using in their fracking fluid concoction.
Requiring oil and gas companies to follow the same rules as all other citizens with respect to groundwater withdrawal is appropriate, but such businesses already have to abide by state water withdrawal and use statutes. Frankly, we’re at a loss for the reason this bill was introduced.
While we wouldn’t oppose a comprehensive study of best practices involving the fracking process in other states, we don’t see the need to implement a one-year moratorium on fracking in Michigan.
According to the DNR, fracking has been used on more than 12,000 wells in Michigan since the 1960s without any of the environmental incidents publicized in a handful of other states — not one case of contaminated groundwater or surface water, or flammable tap water in over 50 years.
In addition, 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.
We’re aware that there have been complaints of water contamination following the use of fracking in other states, including Wyoming and Pennsylvania, since the EPA completed its 2004 study. In Pennsylvania, a man was shown igniting his tap water — which some feared was due to fracking — in the Oscar-nominated documentary “Gasland.”
However, a peer-reviewed study on hydraulic fracturing by Duke University’s Robert Jackson concluded that, while those who live closer to a gas well are more likely to have their water contaminated with gas, such contamination doesn’t come directly from fracking. Sometimes methane can seep naturally from a shale formation into the groundwater supply — a natural occurrence which has been happening for millennia.
And in Pennsylvania, where methane was found in the water, it was decided that the most likely culprit was gas well coverings that were leaking — a problem that is easily fixed, according to Jackson’s study — and not hydraulic fracturing itself.
Michigan DNR personnel state that fracking wastewater hasn’t been treated properly in other states, including storing the water in pits, disposing it improperly, or having it treated at a municipal wastewater treatment plant that wasn’t designed or intended to handle such waste water.
By contrast, Michigan requires the wastewater to be contained in steel tanks before being transported to deep disposal wells licensed by the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the EPA.
Without a single case of environmental contamination in Michigan after more than a half-century of fracking, and state regulations governing the process that are more restrictive and effective than those in other states, a year-long moratorium on fracking would be a foolish, reactionary move.
On the other hand, requiring companies to assume liability for any spills or mishaps and to disclose the chemical additives used during fracking merits adoption. If mistakes or an accident occur, the company responsible must be held liable and required to pay for complete remediation, regardless of the resource extraction process. We also believe the public has every right to know what chemicals are added to fracking fluid. That would not only make for a transparent process lending itself to public scrutiny, but also aid in holding extraction businesses accountable should any of the fracking fluid additives end up tainting nearby resources.