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    Deep underground, geological formations hide stores of natural gas and oil in scattered quantities. These hidden deposits would be otherwise inaccessible without current hydraulic fracturing technology, which includes drilling a deep well, pumping down a mixture of water and chemicals at high pressures, and then extracting the gas that is freed up as the surrounding rock ruptures. The gases escape the man-made fissures and travel to the surface to be stored and transported away from the site. Since the 1940s, this process has been used in some capacity to “recover” resources from shale beds, though with current technology, the rate of recovery is significantly higher. As other commodity industries have weathered serious financial blows during the oil price drops of late 2015, the hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” industry has compensated by rapidly increasing productivity through technological advances. In the race against plummeting oil prices, hydraulic fracturing companies have utilized horizontal drilling to seek out new pockets of untapped oil and gas farther out from the original drilling site and by using higher volumes of water, sometimes exceeding millions of gallons. Proponents of fracking have praised it as a massive job creator and more importantly a path to American energy independence. While the fracking industry boom has had these effects, there are a variety of concerns for the potential unintended effects.

     

    FRACKING IN MICHIGAN

     

    In Michigan, the Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals (OOGM) oversees the regulatory and environmental protection components of hydraulic fracturing by understanding and minimizing the risks of the process. Their responsibility is to keep up with the changing technology and apply their knowledge to the unique geological landscape in Michigan. Recently, sites of interest include the Utica-Collingwood in Northern Michigan, the A1 Carbonate in Mid/West Michigan, and the Black River (Van Wert zone) in Southern Michigan. These sites are large scale operations requiring high volumes of water. MDEQ responded by requiring high-volume well projects to follow standards for water withdrawal evaluation and improved reporting and transparency through the issuance of the Supervisor of Wells Instruction 1-2011. There are other small sites in Michigan, but those are primarily vertical-only, low volume operations that are well regulated by current statute.

     

    Pro-fracking advocacy groups, such as The Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s Michigan Capitol Confidential, have focused on the history of hydraulic fracturing in Michigan and the significant part it plays in lowering the cost of energy and gasoline for consumers as well as its role in energy independence, but claim that concerns over hydraulic fracturing are “overblown and based on ignorance” at best, and that similar concerns exist in every type of energy extraction. However, these claims are met with opposition from Democratic Michigan lawmakers and various environmental groups such as the Sierra Club. These groups have concerns about the long-term environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing and believe that the measures that the MDEQ has taken are inadequate for the rising industry. They believe that risks still remain and that action must be taken at the legislative level for additional provisions and reevaluations.

     

    ENVIRONMENT AND HEALTH

     

    Hydraulic fracturing presents a major opportunity for the energy sector, yet presents many environmental, health, and sustainability issues. With a water crisis fresh in the memories of Michigan residents, the use of Great Lakes water for fracking can be a controversial topic. While original hydraulic fracturing operations only used around 30,000 gallons per well, the new high-volume horizontal wells can use 2 – 10 million gallons per well. Such a high rate could have significant impacts on aquatic ecosystems, and drinking water costs. The transportation of that water adds air quality concerns, as high volume operations can require nearly 1,500 truck trips. The water used is mixed with a combination of additives, tracers and proppants for the fracturing process, which severely limits its potential reuses.

     

    In many cases, this contaminated water is largely irretrievable, with as high as 70-90% of it remaining in the ground. The portion that is returned contains a cocktail mix of chemicals, some with low levels of radiation that make handling the wastewater difficult. Companies are faced with limited options for the disposal of this water. The water can be returned to the surface to evaporate in open-air pits, shipped to another well to be used in a separate operation, injected deep down into the earth in storage wells, or treated for limited reuse for other purposes. None of the options are free of environmental or health risks: open pits and transporting many truckloads of water create air quality issues, injection wells have been linked to earthquakes, and the genuine safety of reuse is still debated. With a history of leaks, overflows, and contaminations from wells, it is clear to many that these operations require oversight.

     

    Furthermore, under current statute, fracking companies are under no obligation to share with the public the chemicals and additives they combine to create the fracking fluid. The chemicals themselves pose a separate threat. Compounds known to be commonly used to create and hold open the shale fractures are also overwhelmingly known to be toxic to humans and wildlife. The residents in the vicinity of wells currently have no recourse for voicing opposition to the use of these chemicals near their homes. And while companies have to comply with zoning laws, there is no specific legislation protecting residential or agricultural areas from the potential leaks or increases in harmful air pollutants. Residents, health care professionals, and first responders to disasters have a compelling interest in knowing the chemical blend being used for drilling near them, but hydraulic fracturing companies have been permitted in most states to hide that information, claiming it as protected “trade secrets.” Critics argue that the importance of protecting the public’s safety, which is at risk of ramifications from the drilling and extraction process, outweighs the potential burden regulations would place on the industry.

     

    REGULATION AND LEGISLATION

     

    Democratic lawmakers in Michigan came together early this year to address the failures of current statutes with regard to public safety, the environment, sustainability and hydraulic fracturing. In a series of bills, these legislators hope to increase transparency with respect to the list of chemicals and additives used in the fracking fluids. Other states have attempted to do this in recent years, but legal loopholes still remain. The bills would provide a public hearing/public comment system in which this information is posted online and given to local media and government units. In case of groundwater contamination, having access to that information could save lives. Additionally, wells would be required to be at least 5,000 feet away from homes for the safety of residents. Hydraulic fracking companies, legislators argue, should also be held liable for contamination if it is directly caused by one of their wells. They would also be prohibited from using the chemically treated water for dust suppression on dirt roads in order to avoid air pollution when the soil dries and blows around. Furthermore, lawmakers want to shift control to local bodies, such as townships and counties, with regard to the placement and operation of fracking wells.

     

    The bills not only address public safety, but also conservation and sustainability. They contain language that requests studies on the environmental impact of the high-volume water usage over time, changes to the costs of drinking water, and the potential harm that injection wells and disposal of waste fluid could cause. Most importantly, this bill package requests a moratorium on the high-volume horizontal fracturing process until these evaluations can be completed. Michigan would not be alone in such an effort; New York placed a temporary ban on high-volume fracking in light of recent scientific studies detailing the potential harm the process is causing and instead turned toward the pursuit of renewable energy sources.

    The ideas presented in House Bills 5366, 5367, 5368, 5370, 5371, and 5372 are not entirely new to the legislative scene. The public, advocates, and legislators alike have voiced concerns about fracking for the past 5 years. These bills would work in tandem to address the multifaceted issue of high-volume hydraulic fracturing. However, they all remain in the House Committee of Energy Policy as of February 2016. With a Republican majority in the legislature, Democratic legislators are left to hope for bipartisan support and precedents set by other state governments who have stepped up to take on this issue, such as New York and Wyoming. Representatives who stand for districts already suffering from pollution issues will undoubtedly be monitoring this situation closely as it unfolds.

     

    Sources:

    Hydraulic Fracturing 101. (n.d.). Retrieved February 25, 2016, from https://www.earthworksaction.org/issues/detail/hydraulic_fracturing_101#.VtNrv5MrI01

    Hydraulic Fracturing: Unlocking America's Natural Gas Resources (Rep.). (2015, November). Retrieved February 25, 2016, from American Petroleum Institute website: http://www.api.org/~/media/Files/Oil-and-Natural-Gas/Hydraulic-Fracturing-primer/Hydraulic-Fracturing-Primer-2015-highres.pdf

    Street, C. W. (2015, October 27). U.S. Fracking Industry Booms on Higher Productivity. Retrieved February 25, 2016, from http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/10/27/u-s-fracking-industry-continues-boom-higher-productivity/

    Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. (2013, June 6). Hydraulic Fracturing of Oil and Gas Wells in Michigan. Retrieved March 20, 2016, from http://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/Hydraulic_Fracturing_In_Michigan_423431_7.pdf

    Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. (2013, June 6). Hydraulic Fracturing of Oil and Gas Wells in Michigan. Retrieved March 20, 2016, from http://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/Hydraulic_Fracturing_In_Michigan_423431_7.pdf

    Skorup, J. (2013, August 26). Fracking Concerns Overblown; Risks Exist With All Energy Extraction. Retrieved March 20, 2016, from http://www.michigancapitolconfidential.com/19014

    Hydraulic Fracturing 101. (n.d.). Retrieved February 25, 2016, from https://www.earthworksaction.org/issues/detail/hydraulic_fracturing_101#.VtNrv5MrI01

    Hansen, E., Mulvaney, D., & Betcher, M. (2013, October 30). Water Resource Reporting and Water Footprint from Marcellus Shale Development in West Virginia and Pennsylvania (Rep.). Retrieved February 25, 2016, from Downstream Strategies website: http://www.downstreamstrategies.com/documents/reports_publication/marcellus_wv_pa.pdf

    Hansen, E., Mulvaney, D., & Betcher, M. (2013, October 30). Water Resource Reporting and Water Footprint from Marcellus Shale Development in West Virginia and Pennsylvania (Rep.). Retrieved February 25, 2016, from Downstream Strategies website: http://www.downstreamstrategies.com/documents/reports_publication/marcellus_wv_pa.pdf

    Center for Western Priorities. (n.d.). Colorado Toxic Release Tracker 2013 Summary. Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://westernpriorities.org/colorado-toxic-release-tracker-2013-summary/

    Hydraulic Fracturing 101. (n.d.). Retrieved February 25, 2016, from https://www.earthworksaction.org/issues/detail/hydraulic_fracturing_101#.VtNrv5MrI01

    Hydraulic Fracturing 101. (n.d.). Retrieved February 25, 2016, from https://www.earthworksaction.org/issues/detail/hydraulic_fracturing_101#.VtNrv5MrI01

    Banerjee, N. (2015, March 31). Fracking Companies Keep 10% of Chemicals Secret, EPA Says. Retrieved February 26, 2016, from http://insideclimatenews.org/news/31032015/fracking-companies-keep-10-chemicals-secret-epa-says

    Galbraith, K. (2013). Strong Rules on Fracking in Wyoming Seen as Model. Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/23/business/energy-environment/wyomings-strong-fracking-rules-may-be-a-model.html?_r=0

    Mantius, P. (2014, December 31). New York's Ban on High-Volume Fracking Rocks the Foundations of 'Shale Revolution' Retrieved February 27, 2016, from https://www.dcbureau.org/2014123110118/natural-resources-news-service/new-yorks-ban-high-volume-fracking-rocks-foundations-shale-revolution.html

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