Anti-fracking group gears up for ballot fight

By Kyle Campbell
Photo: wcn247 (flickr)

Anti-fracking group gears up for ballot proposal banning new horizontal hydraulic fracturing. Photo: wcn247 (flickr)

The process is the same: Drills burrow thousands of feet below the surface to make way for large quantities of water, sand and chemicals to be pumped into the ground to create fissures for gas to flow through.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, has existed in Michigan since 1952, largely without opposition or question. More than 12,000 wells have been drilled during the past six decades the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) hasn’t recorded a major leak or spill in that time.

Despite what industry officials call an impressive safety track record, this method of natural gas extraction is under fire.

Advances in technology allow energy companies to dig deeper and efficiently extract more natural gas and oil, creating a nationwide boom in supply and raising environmental concerns among residents of producing states, such as Michigan.

The method is called horizontal hydraulic fracturing. After drilling into the shale bed, companies then drill horizontally into the rock, allowing them to draw oil and gas from a larger area of the subterranean deposit.

While a traditional vertical well generally goes down 2,000 to 3,000 feet, a horizontal well shaft goes down 5,000 feet or more then extends as far as two miles horizontally.

Horizontal fracking also requires significantly more water to be pumped into wells — increasing groundwater use from a few hundred thousand gallons to as much as 20 million gallons per blast.

Industry analysts and the DEQ insist the extraction methods used for so-called high-volume wells differ from traditional wells only in scope and, therefore, pose no greater threat to the environment.

“This is part of Michigan, this is something that the DEQ has regulated since before the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act in the 1970s,” DEQ communications director Brad Wurfel said. “The difference between the old and the new fracturing is scale — it uses more water.”

Environmental concerns

Some environmental advocates criticize hydraulic fracturing, including the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, which is gearing for its second push to prohibit new horizontal fracking.

Starting April 12, the Charlevoix-based group will try to collect 258,088 voter signatures for a November 2014 legislative ballot initiative to stop the practice.

The group failed to get enough signatures to put a similar constitutional amendment on last November’s ballot.

Groups around the country have protested against fracking. Photo: billb1961 (flickr)

Groups around the country have protested against fracking. Photo: billb1961 (flickr)

“The proposal is to ban horizontal fracking and also the waste that is produced,” campaign director LuAnne Kozma said. “We believe the process itself is a waste.”

Kozma said she’s concerned with the amount of water taken from state aquifers, as well as the pollution potential when fracking solution is removed from wells.

The solution is 90 percent water, 9.5 percent sand and 0.5 percent chemicals. But after it’s pumped into a well, pressurized to fracture the shale and withdrawn, the solution is also contaminated with other materials it picks up during the process.

DEQ’s Wurfel said it’s not a huge toxic threat going in, but “when it gets down there, it mixes with natural brines and anything else that’s already down there — the hydrocarbons that they’re going after — so the water that comes back up is a concern.

“And there are strict requirements for not storing it, for example, in an open pit.”

Michigan’s regulations are set up to prevent environmental problems during the drilling, fracking and extraction processes, said Rick Henderson, field operations supervisor for the DEQ’s Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals.

Henderson said he and the geologists who work under him monitor the process from start to finish to ensure companies follow Michigan’s stringent rules for so-called flowback water removal and storage.

Wurfel said flowback water is extracted from wells and transported in steel-cased tanks to deep injection wells — open pockets thousands of feet underground made up of impermeable rock.

But Kozma said dealing with such large quantities risky.

“Those casings have to last forever or else that frack water is going into the aquifers,” she said. “We’re creating a slow-leaking nightmare. Some people would like to talk about them as proper disposal, but it’s all going to come back at us.

“There’s no recourse once an aquifer is contaminated. What do you do? Do you move a town? Do you move an entire region of Michigan? No, you can’t,” she said.

Opponents also express concerns that such large-scale fracturing cause earthquakes or other geological disturbances.

Warren Wood, a hydrogeologist and geoscience professor at Michigan State University, said there’s “no question” fracking causes earthquakes, but on such a small scale that they cannot be felt in Michigan.

Supply and demand

Michigan has approved about 130 high-volume wells, including 52 between 2008-12, said Hal Fitch, chief of the Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals.

Michigan generally ranks among the top 20 states for oil and gas production, standing 17th and 16th, respectively, in 2011 according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

While technological advances are expanding natural gas production, they also are oversaturating the market. Once thought to be a “transition fuel,” the natural gas supply is projected to be enough to last for the next century, said Erik Bauss, Michigan field director for Energy In Depth, a research and advocacy group for the oil and gas industry based in Washington, D.C.

The prices of natural gas prices in the U.S. are less than a third of what they were in 2008 and are about a third of European prices and one-quarter of prices in Asia. Because the fuel is so cheap, Bauss said, production is less profitable than it was a few years ago.

The top counties for oil and gas-related permits in 2012. Source: Department of Environmental Quality.

The top counties for oil and gas-related permits in 2012. Source: Department of Environmental Quality.

Oil and gas-related drilling permits issued in Michigan have decreased significantly in recent years. After climbing steadily at the beginning of the new millennium and peaking with 912 permits in 2008, the number dropped substantially to 271 in 2009 and falling to 198 last year.

Wurfel said a reason for the decline is that one horizontal well can produce as much natural gas as 10 to 20 smaller vertical wells. Consolidating production also reduces the amount of surface disturbance, Wurfel said.

And Bauss said a major reason groups such as the Sierra Club oppose horizontal fracking and natural gas as a fuel is because it takes momentum away from renewable energy sources.

The number of oil and gas-related permits issued in Michigan between 2000 and 2012. Source: Department of Environmental Quality.

The number of oil and gas-related permits issued in Michigan between 2000 and 2012. Source: Department of Environmental Quality.

“What that does is destroy their hopes and dreams about renewable energy, particular solar and wind,” he said. “You can estimate about 35 times more fuel can come out of these than the traditional wells. It’s not going to be a five- or 10-year supply, which is what everyone thought.”

But Kozma said that’s not part of her anti-fracking group’s agenda. “Our proposal is simply anti-frack — it is not pro anything else. There’s no hidden agenda by some other company or some other sector of the economy.”

 

 

  • Ruth

    After doing much research, talking to the DNR, DEQ, legislators, and, Governor Snyder’s office I believe fracking to be an extremely dangerous practice.I think it should be put one hold under we look at it further. The oil and gas drilling is exempt from Several environ,entail laws meant to protect people and the environment, The Clean Water Act, The Safe Drinking Water Act, to name a few. They do not have to disclose the chemicals they use. This is not the same as the old fracking and I feel the state is not being forthcoming with the issues. They say they have been doing this for 60 years with no problems. Wrong on both accounts. This slick water horizontal fracking did not even come into play in the US until 1997 and was not used until later in Michigan. Michigan use to have a database the public could check that listed contamination, etc problems with drill. In 1995 they closed this site down due to pressure from oil and companies. As a former regulator said, “There were hundred of problems with wells.” They just don’t want us to know. Also, people should realize how close wells can get to houses. It is truly frightening. The CDC is now looking into increasesin health problems relates to those close to fracking wells.In a state that has 20% of the worlds fresh water, the longest freshwater coast in the US and 1/2 of its residents using well water (more than any other state) it warrants halting this practice and coming together in an honest discussion.

  • Joe

    What I do know Boss is that Alaska doesn’t want to give up its product for free. If you make a mistake fracking, it is simple to rectify. Stop fracking. Its not quite like an oil spill. Otherwise, Kozma’s evident support for New Jersey bunk oil is just a southbound pachyderm. Right? Or is it an oil spill?

  • Boss

    A World at War, you see this, http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2013/commentary/editorial-in-the-circle-fresh-focus/to-frack-or-not-lets-ask-the-right-question/?goback=%2Egmr_4898372%2Egde_4898372_member_228168720 ?

    Phil, how about some links, some math, some attention to reality? While no formation/play is identical to another, the facts are that Antrim and Collingwood wells tape ‘tight’ resources, aka Shales, they both use HF, they are both in Michigan, etc., etc…..

  • Boss

    The article says: But Kozma said that’s not part of her anti-fracking group’s agenda. “Our proposal is simply anti-frack — it is not pro anything else. There’s no hidden agenda by some other company or some other sector of the economy.”
    But in http://ecowatch.com/2013/ban-fracking-michigan-campaign/ piece you find this: “Only a ban can protect us from the significant harms of fracking,” said Peggy Case, president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation and a member of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan. “The language in our current law favoring the fossil fuel industry makes it inevitable that Michigan contributes mercilessly to global climate change and serious pollution of the Great Lakes, 20 percent of the world’s fresh water. It is urgent that we move to alternative forms of energy to protect future generations.”
    So you are going to believe that Kozma and crew don’t have ‘horses in the race’ that they want to win?

  • Joe

    Fracking is very clean. The key is drilling in places where you will not be unnecessarily infecting your water resources with sand and hydraulic fluid. Natural gas is also found on top of oil deposits. In the past, people used to burn off the natural gas on oil deposits inorder to get to the oil. In Alaska, they compress natural gas from on top of oil deposits and pump it into old oil wells. Natural gas does not lower CO2 emissions, but it does lower unwanted emissions because it burns very clean. There’s a definite mismanagement of resources with all of the compressed resources untapped in Alaska. The problem is that the natural solution is drilling for oil less in Alaska until the natural gas is properly used while continuing the fracking process in a fashion that makes sense.

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  • Phil

    To keep comparing these Collingwood wells to Antrim wells is ridiculous. The only difference is scope?!? One Collingwood pad, just applied for north of 72 off Sunset Trail, will consume more water than all 12,000 Antrim wells have consumed in 74 years!!! And you say the only difference is scope? Yeah, I’d say the scope has changed a little bit. The regulations sure haven’t. The amount charged for a permit hasn’t changed much. We are giving away our most valuable resource at an unprecedented pace that has already run two aquifers dry to the bone (Wilmot and Yonkman) and you keep pretending this is no big deal. This is a Canadian company drilling with funding from China too, does it bother anybody that we’re clearing our forests and draining our most precious resource for Canadians and Chinese?

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  • Ron Wagner RN, MA

    Producing and using natural gas is the best solution for base power, in conjunction with solar, wind, geothermal etc. There is plenty of natural gas all around the world, and it can be accessed with new and future technology.
    http://www.worldwatch.org/sy The main concern for environmentalists worldwide should be to cut the use of coal, especially in antiquated plants. Here are the top ten coal burners: http://www.treehugger.com/clean-technology/what-are-the-top-ten-coal-burning-countries-on-the-planet-whos-1.html Dead link. Just search their site. China burns almost as much coal as the rest of the world combined.
    It is possible for the whole world to drastically cut coal burning and benefit the health of all. Coal pollution travels around the world. http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/coalvswind/c02c.html

    stem/files/184_natural_gas_FINAL.pdf
    http://green.autoblog.com/2013/01/23/scientists-sound-alarm-on-soots-effect-on-global-warming/

    http://www.naturalgasamericas.com/study-natural-gas-is-much-needed-tool-to-slow-global-warming-7383

    Natural gas is the future of energy. It is replacing dirty old coal plants, and dangerous expensive nuclear plants. It will fuel cars, trucks, vans, buses, locomotives, aircraft, ships, tractors, engines of all kinds. It costs far less. It will help keep us out of more useless wars, where we shed our blood and money. It is used to make many products. It will bring jobs and boost our economy. It lowers CO2 emissions, and pollution. Over 5,900 select natural gas story links on my free blog. An annotated and illustrated bibliography of live links, updated daily. The worldwide picture of natural gas. Read in 77 nations. ronwagnersrants . blogspot . com

  • Rod

    “But Kozma said that’s not part of her anti-fracking group’s agenda. “Our proposal is simply anti-frack — it is not pro anything else. There’s no hidden agenda by some other company or some other sector of the economy.”
    Anti-fracking, Anti-natural gas, Anti-coal, Anti-any fossil fuel. Yet I’m sure eveyone on the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan likes to have a warm house in the winter. Maybe they all have wood buring stoves. But wait, wood is a fossil fuel so that can’t be right. I guess they only heat their homes when the wind is blowing or the sun is shinning.
    What any easy approach to be “Anti” and not offer any other low cost options such as the natural gas that has been made available through the fracking process to heat the homes of Michigan residents (especially low-income). Especially when Michigan has such strong regulatory oversight in place.