High-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing for natural gas may pose threats to groundwater, drinking water, and air quality. WMEAC is not yet ready to support a permanent ban, but seeks increased transparency and regulation.
WMEAC and a coalition of environmental groups have identified fracking as one of our four major state-level priorities. WMEAC is concerned that modern day high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing and it’s proprietary cocktail of chemical lubricants and solvents could be potentially harmful to groundwater and drinking water supplies. The practice also raises serious concerns about the large amounts of groundwater extraction, methods of wastewater (aka “produced water”) disposal/reuse, air emissions, and the impact of heavy equipment needed to transport very large volumes of wastewater, and drilling supplies through natural areas, small communities, and urban centers.
The issue has flared in Michigan in part because of a May 4, 2010 auction of public land mineral rights yielding $178 million — nearly as much as Michigan had earned in its past 81 years of state mineral auctions combined – coupled with a national natural gas boom, rising prices of fossil fuel substitutes, and an improving economy.
Already, there are reports of releases of radioactive wastewater into Pennsylvania streams and rivers, and we’re well aware of the variety of issues associated with all types of natural gas drilling documented in the Oscar nominated documentary Gasland. Yet, Michigan has very different geology than Colorado, New York, Texas, and some of the other states having serious problems, and Michigan’s current regulatory regime is stronger than the states that have experienced the worst problems.
WMEAC and Environmental partners take action
Within the past year WMEAC joined environmental groups across the state sending a comprehensive and detailed letter expressing concerns about hydraulic fracturing to the Supervisor of Wells and ex-Director of DNRE, Rebecca Humphries. The new administration has continued working with environmental groups. Assistant Supervisor of Wells, Harold Fitch, and DEQ staff have thus far been responsive to concerns, and they are working closely with Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, WMEAC, and other environmental groups – going through our checklist of concerns one by one. These issues have not been sufficiently addressed yet, and WMEAC will remain vigilant until they are.
Given that discussions between environmental groups, and state government have been fruitful thus far, and that Michigan is in a different position geologically, and has better regulations than other states, WMEAC is not yet ready to request a permanent moratorium on horizontal hydraulic fracturing.
Don’t Frack Michigan advocates for ban
There are groups in Michigan dedicated to banning fracking. Don’t Frack Michigan is leading this charge, and WMEAC certainly supports the passion and intent of these groups in protecting Michigan’s priceless water resources. WMEAC feels that the viability of such a position for making progress on the issue is not only unlikely, but may also prove counterproductive to actually achieving increased ground and surface water protections. For this reason WMEAC and other environmental groups are currently working with Michigan regulators, the executive branch, and state legislators.
New Developments could alter WMEAC approach
WMEAC, of course, maintains the right to alter its advocacy course as new science and information becomes available. For example, the U.S. EPA has embarked on a major study due in 2012 to find more definitive answers to many of the outstanding scientific questions and documented issues concerning fracking. A definitive statement by the EPA or significant results from this study would certainly influence WMEAC’s decision making on this issue and policy stance. Likewise, a significant rush to drill by the oil and gas industry would also influence WMEAC’s approach.
Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy First!
Finally, despite WMEAC stopping short of calling for a fracking ban, it remains true that WMEAC always supports energy efficiency and energy optimization measures first, and seeks non fossil-fuel, clean energy production second. Only when these options are technologically and economically exhausted should the conversation move to considering natural gas and other fossil fuels – and Michigan is nowhere near that point.
Contact WMEAC Policy Director Nicholas Occhipinti for more information and to take action on this issue. firstname.lastname@example.org or 616.451.3051 x23.