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Hydraulic Fracturing in Michigan

Sierra Club Michigan Chapter calls for Delay Before Fracking

Natural gas drilling operation. (c) B.Mark Schmerling

Two years ago the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter and Michigan Clean Water Action, along with several allies and affected and concerned citizens, called for a delay on all fracking in our state until a new set of safeguards are in place.  

These important measures must be implemented before any new drilling resumes: 

  • Protect Michigan’s water supply from extreme water withdrawals associated with fracking.
  • Protect water quality and public health by requiring public disclosure of all chemicals before natural gas and oil companies drill.  The public’s right to know what's in our water outweighs any corporate claims of trade secrets involving chemicals.  The Governor and Legislature must assure that fracking for oil and natural gas causes no harm, that all waste fluids and chemicals are properly disposed.
  • Build in meaningful public participation in oil and natural gas permitting, just like Michigan's other permitting decsions, so people know all of the facts before a permit is issued.  All stakeholders—including people who own wells, fish in streams and drink water—have the right to give input, and to be heard.

A new gas rush is taking place in the Great Lakes State.   

State Garfield 1-25 HD-1: Natural gas well flaring in Kalkaska Co.
State Garfield 1-25 HD-1:
Natural gas well flaring in Kalkaska Co.

What led to all of this?  In 2010 Michigan held a record-setting state lease sale of oil and gas rights in the northern Lower Peninsula, after word got out to natural gas and oil companies that our state may hold sub-stantial reservoirs 1000s of feet deep in rock layers known as "tight shale."    The technique for extracting these fossil fuels is called Slickwater High Volume Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing, or just "fracking".  Millions of gallons of water and thousands of gallons of chemicals are injected at 10,000 pounds per square inch deep underground into fissures in shale rock, to widen the fissures sufficiently to extract the natural gas.  While a similar, albeit scaled-down technique has been used for many years in vertical wells in Michigan's Antrim shale drilling, its use in the much deeper Utica-Collingwood  shale deposits introduces new concerns:

  • The deposits are as deep as11,000 and more feet down, compared to 1000-2000 feet for the Antrim shale, and these for the most part require horizontal drilling.
  • The deep drilling requires much more water (up to 30 million of gallons per well), and the process is exempt from Michigan's water withdrawal laws, and the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
  • The drilling companies consider the chemical additives proprietary and are not required to make them public.
  • Though the wastewater that flows back includes these chemicals, plus naturally occurring dissolved chemicals including hydrocarbons and heavy metals, these liquids are still referred to as benign-sounding "brine".  The waste liquids are disposed of in Class 2 deep injection wells and since they're designated as oil and natural gas waste, they have fewer protective requirements, and the wells are exempt from local zoning.
  • Incidents of surface and groundwater contamination have been reported in other states, including Pennsylvania, New York, Colorado, Wyoming, and many others.

At the Federal Level

In spring of 2011 the EPA announced that under direction from Congress it was undertaking a new life-cycle analysis of the impact of hydraulic fracturing, expected to be completed in 2012.   Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to rescind the exemption from Safe Drinking Water Act regulation and to require disclosure of the chemicals (but not the proprietary formulas) used in the process.  Industry spokesmen have asked that no action be taken on these bills until the EPA report is completed.   Stay tuned.

The national Sierra Club Beyond Natural Gas campaign has set up a webpage to track different states' efforts to regulate (or even deregulate) the process of hydrofracking.  

Other sources of information include Michigan's own Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, as well as ProPublica, and you can check out our Hydrofracking Presentations, Events and Resources page, too. 

To learn more about what the Michigan Chapter is doing about hydrofracking here in Michigan, please contact Conservation Director Anne Woiwode by email or at 517-484-2372  x11.

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Hydrofracking Factsheets

Beyond Natural Gas Fact Sheet

Contact Governor Rick Snyder: Moratorium NOW!

News Releases - Oil & Natural Gas

Help Monitor Streams near Slickwater High Volume Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing

May 17, 2011 Press Release: Moratorium Sierra Club & Clean Water Action Call for Delay Before More Fracking in Michigan

Hydrofracking Resources including our Hydrofracking Policy & informational websites

Healthy Great Lakes, Healthy Michigan

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