News surfaced yesterday that Michigan this week experienced its first documented leak from a hydraulic fracturing operation. The leak forced the shutdown of a more than 1,000-foot-deep natural gas well being drilled near Traverse City with the technique commonly known as fracking, and will likely lead to a review of some drilling regulations.
Environmentalists nationwide are lobbying for drilling companies to disclose the proprietary mix of chemicals used in the fracking process, developed by Halliburton. In some communities, fracking is believed to have led to such severe degradation of drinking water that tap water can literally catch fire.
The leak at the well in Benzie County’s Joyfield Township was detected late Monday or early Tuesday, and the leak was stopped and contained Tuesday, the state Department of Natural Resources and Environment said. The department said there was no imminent danger and an initial review found the spill was limited to a small area right around the well.
The department said it was the first time such a hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operation has experienced a leak in Michigan. About 12,000 wells in Michigan have been drilled using the technique since the 1960s, the state said.
The leak may lead to a review of some regulations related to permits and monitoring for such wells, the state said. Current regulations require companies to disclose details of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing only if there’s a spill, for example, and Wurfel said the state previously was looking at whether companies should be required to routinely reveal that information.
Hugh McDiarmid Jr., spokesman for the Michigan Environmental Council, said that although hydraulic fracturing has long been used in Michigan there needs to be fresh discussion about regulations, especially with the possibility of deeper such wells being discussed nationwide. He said the leak could intensify the call for a public review.
“This incident illustrates for us the need for a public dialogue over whether we need to look at or change any the fracking regulations,” he said.
Hydraulic fracturing has come under increasing scrutiny recently as drilling crews flock to the Marcellus Shale, a rock bed beneath New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. The oil and gas industry says hydraulic fracturing has been used safely for decades. Environmentalists, however, fear that fluids or wastewater from the process could pollute drinking water supplies.