Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” can use millions of gallons of water to crack the shale rock and release natural gas in wells. The water that comes back up immediately after a well is fracked and during the subsequent weeks is referred to by the industry as brine water or flowback water. This water contains an undisclosed concoction of chemicals, many of which are believed to be toxic and carcinogenic.
An investigation by local activists has unearthed some disturbing news about how this contaminated water is handled. This past summer gas company Encana sprayed a significant portion of its water onto roads in the area surrounding the well, more than 40,000 gallons of the flowback water was sprayed onto roads over the summer. It was originally believed that this happened for a month before activists were able to stop it, but new information has been found from the State showing that the spraying occurred over 94 days, far longer than the DEQ originally indicated.
This issue was first uncovered by well site neighbor Paul Brady of Bear Lake Township, who would go on walks and notice that the roads around the drilling sites were wet just about every day. Concerned and knowledgeable about the issue, he contacted the DEQ, and soon found out that the fracking companies were spraying the flowback water onto the roads for “dust control”.
The flowback water was being sprayed on the state forest surrounding two wells in Kalkaska County, with 2,268 gallons of flowback water was sprayed on roads in Mill Creek Campground near Paradise Lake in Cheboygan County on June 13, a high season for tourists. The spraying of flowback water was done legally with a permit from the DEQ for dust control and ice control. Outrage from community members and anti-fracking activists convinced Rick Henderson, field operations supervisor in the Traverse City DEQ’s Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals to halt this practice.
Henderson claims that a 1983 court order sets up regulations for oil and gas companies to dispose of their brine water as a dust control agent, but what the public and scientific community views as “safe” has changed much in 30 years. One of the chemicals that the DEQ says is in the flowback water is AI-2, which is an acid inhibitor with certain ingredients deemed “secret” by gas companies and thus unknown by both the DEQ and the public. The safety data sheet on AI-2 says it is “explosive, poisonous and fatal”.