“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.” - Bertrand Russell
There is nothing that underscores the truth of late philosopher Bertrand Russell's statement regarding ideological certainty than the frightening move by natural gas developers to place the entire health, economic viability, and precious natural resources of Michigan in imminent jeopardy through a newly adopted process called Hydraulic Fracturing or 'Fracking' that has resulted in dire consequences within every state that has cultivated it.
Yet even more alarming is the hesitation of the Michigan Legislature and Governor Snyder to institute an imminent ban on this practice in the face of undeniable evidence that proves it is not a question of whether environmental, economic, and health catastrophe will happen in Michigan; but rather, just a question of when it will happen.
There is no rational explanation for what is happening because stupidity is not a liability but an asset in the face of blind monetary exploitation and nefarious greed driven by no other goal than getting its own way. Before obstinate fools, we are all weak.
Two years ago last August I reported about how our hapless legislature in Lansing was scurrying to make up a billion dollar budget deficit by auctioning off hundreds of thousands of acres of pristine property throughout the state for pennies on the dollar. Back in 2012 this mineral rights auction brought in a modest $178 million dollars to the state; and private landowners are now being paid off as well to lease their land for fracking wells - - a little regulated, immensely controversial, and rapidly growing mining technique that has been linked to massive ground water contamination in numerous other states ranging from Colorado, New York, Kentucky and Ohio.
Natural gas companies see lucrative opportunities for using this technique to extract natural gas from a giant shale formation that lies like a bowl under much of Northern Michigan. The cha-ching of dollar investment at these mineral rights auctions was touched off by the results of an exploratory well drilled in Missaukee County, about 30 miles southeast of Traverse City.
That exploratory drilling - which is labeled the 'Pioneer' well - was conducted by a subsidiary of the Calgary-based Canadian Encana Corporation. Unlike traditional natural gas wells that tapped into the Antrim shale formation (between 600-2,200 feet deep) across Northern Michigan in the 1980s, the Pioneer well went down 9,865 feet and then drilled horizontally into the Collingswood shale formation for 5,000 feet.
An initial 30-day production test at the well yielded about 2.5 million cubic feet of natural gas per day and the company says it has acquired rights to about 250,000 acres of land in Michigan.
What is fracking?
Horizontal hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” injects huge volumes of water, chemicals and sand 10,000 feet underground to create fractures through which methane gas can flow for collection.
While the fracking process has been utilized in Michigan for thirty years, this latest process of horizontal deep-shale methane gas extraction is a new technology that is less than six years old and significantly more dangerous.
Every state involved with horizontal fracking, from New Mexico to Pennsylvania has experienced serious damage to drinking water, human health, livestock and wildlife, freshwater aquifers, rivers, and air pollution.
Yet in July of this year officials in Kalkaska County approved for Encana Oil & Gas a barracks-style work camp that could house 40 gas field workers, with more camps on their way. The barracks is located about a half hour from Encana well pads in Excelsior and Oliver townships, with only one residential neighbor located within 300 feet of the work camp.
But the alarm bell is ringing for deep shale natural gas harvesting. Recently Calvin Tillman, former mayor of Dish, Texas addressed audiences in Harbor Springs, Gaylord, Charlevoix and Traverse City in early August. Tillman is a conservative who grew into an opponent of natural gas fracking because of what it did to the health of his community. “This activity has turned our small rural town into an industrial one,” Tillman says. “People in the community, including my two young boys, have been overcome with strong chemical odors.”
JoAnne Beemon of Don't Frack Michigan breaks it down this way: “What we're really concerned about is this is happening under the radar and in a very planned way to get fracking entrenched in Michigan without anyone being alarmed.”
The process involves a deep well drilled vertically, followed by a horizontal well that is drilled out for over a mile into a shale where there is believed to be natural gas. Water, sand and a mixture of chemicals is forced into the well at high pressure to break fissures into the shale and release natural gas.
The concern is with the incredible volumes of water involved in fracking and the potential for serious environmental harm when that water returns to the surface. “What they don't talk about is at least 40 percent of the chemicals injected into the well come back to the surface,” Beemon notes.
23 permits have been issued for horizontal wells in the Collingwood shale in Kalkaska, Missaukee, Cheboygan and Antrim counties and permits for 16 other wells are pending as of June, according to state DEQ records.
Moreover, each deep shale fracking operation uses around 6.7 million gallons of water that is contaminated and cannot be returned to the aquifiers, so if we move forward with this, millions of gallons of water will be contaminated in order to expedite an oil and gas rush that will be here and gone within a few years.
“It will line the pockets of energy barons for 10 years at the cost of our water and tourism,” states Beemon.
On May 8th ot this year, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) offered over another 108,000 acres of state land in 23 counties to bidders interested in purchasing 5-year mineral rights leases for oil and gas drilling, including 23,400 acres in Barry County with nearly the entire Yankee Springs Recreation Area (just east of Gun Lake) up for bid.
Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Muskegon, and Kalamazoo residents attended and took part in protests alongside people from Barry and Oakland counties there to voice their disapproval of the DNR's offering of well-known recreation areas.
Though state auctions of mineral rights have occurred for decades, Mary Uptigrove of the DNR Mineral Management Division, when asked if the twice-yearly auctions usually drew much public attention, said she had never seen anything like the May 8 protest. “No, nothing like this, and I've been here for nine years.”
Auctioneer Bob Howe of Sheridan Realty & Auction Co. agreed, noting that two years ago the MDNR had the largest auction ever in terms of money taken in, with a record $178 million for less acreage than the current May 2012 auction, which only realized a paltry $3.5 million for the state. The difference? Two years ago there was a frenzy of speculation, and our state legislators have obviously been hard at work, paving the way for the natural gas drilling now upon us.
Bidding for the land generally began around $30.00 per acre and went up to $365.00 per acre.
Encana reported 2007 net income of $1.8 billion on revenue of $11.1 billion. So why are our legislators selling off our resources for a dollar-on-the-dime like they were running some cheap whorehouse? This is the question none of them seem prepared to answer.
Moreover, fracking corporations have admitted that 60 chemical compounds are used in this process, but have only disclosed two of them: sand and benzene, a potent carcinogen.
One expert in fracture, whom requested anonymity, had this to say: “I am an expert in fracture and suggest that only two additions are needed: sand and a "photo-flo" surface active agent needed in minute concentrations. The secretive behavior of the fracking corporations suggests to me that they are using fracking to dispose of unwanted chemicals, that means nasty ones. Open and free examination of corporate R & D fracking chemistry is essential.”
2 - 9 million gallons of fresh groundwater (mixed with chemicals) are pumped at high pressure underground to “frack” a well. Each well can be “fracked” several times. Such rapid massive water withdrawal depletes groundwater, affecting lakes, streams and aquatic life, along with homeowner wells.
40 - 70% returns to the surface as “flowback fluid”. This water, now mixed with toxic chemicals, cannot be returned to the watershed and will be disposed of in injection wells. But presently Gas companies are exempt from Michigan water withdrawal rules.
40 - 70% of this contaminated water and chemical mixture returns to the surfacelevel where it must be stored in injection wells or disposed of in another way. The rest of the polluted water and toxins remain in the earth. The extent ofthe irreparable harm it will cause to Michigan's water is a frighteningunknown. In other states fracking has resulted in horrific surface, ground anddrinking water contamination. It has devastated forests and increased airpollution.
So let's look at some of the states that have moved forward with fracking prior to Michigan. In the Susquehanna county town of Dimock, PA, (Marcellus shale)near the New York border problems with the cement casing on 20 wells drilled byCabot Oil & Gas have caused contamination of local water wells, drivingdown property values and causing sickness. A 2010 report issued by thePennsylvania Land Trust Association found that the state has identified 1,435violations by 43 Marcellus Shale drilling companies since January 2008. Ofthose, 952 were identified as having or likely to have an impact on theenvironment.
Already Michigan has experienced two incidents. A little after midnight on the day of Christmas Eve in Crawford County, at the Beaver Creek #5 Claude Seely 5 HD 1 Gas Injection Well, a valve failure sent a plume of toxic hydrogen sulfide gas across Northern Michigan. The gas traveled from the Breitburn Energy Partners injection well south of Grayling across Michigan and as far as Canada for about 4 hours.
Hydrogen Sulfide gas, or sour gas, is deadly. At relatively low concentrations, it is detected by the rotten egg smell of mercaptans occurring within the hydrogen sulfide gas. High levels of Hydrogen Sulfide gas destroy olfactory senses and thus H2S ceases to be detectable when toxicity is high.
When sensors at the Beaver Creek Injection Well Site detected a blown needle valve, the gas plant was shut down automatically, but the sensors should also have shut the injection well boreout, but did not. H2S gas returning from the injection well escaped back up though a ¼ inch hole. Winds carried the gas north. Because H2S is heavier than air, it is deadly when undissipated high concentrations drop in a localized area. This can also make well repairs treacherous.
The facts on fracking are simple, startling, indisputable and shocking. 10,000 - 40,000 gallons of chemicalsare used each time a well is fracked.
Samples taken from well blowouts and fluid pits in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Pennsylvania revealed chemicals that can cause brain damage, birth defects and cancer, which has led to moratoriums and bans in these states. Fracking has already been linked to drinking watercontamination and property damage in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Texas and other states.
Back in 2005 Oil and gas companies sought and were granted an exemptionfrom the Safe Water Drinking Act and Clean Water Act. These federal exemptionsmust be removed. Indeed, the State of New York has issued a moratorium on slick water.
The laundry list of toxic chemicals injected into the ground during hydrofracking should be enough for State legislators to put an immediate halt to this latest move in Michigan, especially in light of the Orwellian and irresponsible move navigated by ex-Vice President Dick Cheney, who managed to navigate legislation through the U.S. Congress that exempts regulation of this practice - as well as identifying the chemicals - from regulation under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in a provision of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which is known as The Halliburton Loophole.
Follow the Money: The Scam Behind the Gas Boom
Not only is this horizontal fracking process toxic, it's driven by billionaires like Aubrey McClendon - a right-wing industrialist who is CEO of America's second largest producer of natural gas, Chesapeake Energy. McClendon profits more from flipping land than drilling for gas and his case demonstrates how fracking produces cheap energy the same way the mortgage crisis was about helping realize the dreams of middle class homeowners.
With Chesapeake, the primary profit in fracking comes not from selling the gas, but buying and flipping the land that contains the gas. The company is now the largest leaseholder in the U.S., owning drilling rights to some 15 million acres - more than twice the size of Maryland. He has financed this land grab through junk bonds and future production deals, creating a highly leveraged, deeply indebted company that has more in common with Enron than ExxonMobile.
And what's more there is little protection for people that lease their land to Chesapeake, Encana, or any other of these natural gas companies. From the Chesapeake Energy Corp's annual report regarding operating hazards and insurance, people leasing their property to these companies do not have to be told this information, which by the company's own admission is a risky business:
As Chesapeake states in their own report: The natural gas and oil business involves a variety of operating risks, including the risk of fire, explosions, blow-outs, pipe failure, abnormally pressured formations and environmental hazards such as oil spills, natural gas leaks, ruptures or discharges of toxic gases. If any of these should occur, Chesapeake could incur legal defense costs and could suffer substantial losses due to injury or loss of life, severe damage to or destruction of property, natural resources and equipment, pollution or other environmental damage, clean-up responsibilities, regulatory investigation and penalties, and suspension of operations. Our horizontal and deep drilling activities involve greater risk of mechanical problems than vertical and shallow drilling operations.
Chesapeake maintains a $75 million control of well policy that insures against certain sudden and accidental risks associated with drilling, completing and operating our wells. There is no assurance that this insurance will be adequate to cover all losses or exposure to liability. Chesapeake also carries a $400 million comprehensive general liability umbrella policy and a $130 million pollution liability policy. We provide workers' compensation insurance coverage to employees in all states in which we operate. While we believe these policies are customary in the industry, they do not provide complete coverage against all operating risks. In addition, our insurance does not cover penalties or fines that may be assessed by a governmental authority. A loss not fully covered by insurance could have a material adverse effect on our financial position, results of operations and cash flows. The insurance coverage that we maintain may not be sufficient to cover every claim made against us in the future.”
That should make legislators, the Governor, and all of us living in this state feel more secure, about this natural gas boom, shouldn't it?
Ban Horizontal Fracking
Horizontal fracking has been banned in Quebec, and temporarily in France. India refuses to lease land to gas drilling. Pittsburgh and Buffalo have banned fracking. New York has issued a moratorium on its use. New Jersey is considering a ban. Ohio is considering a moratorium.
Citizens groups in every state where fracking takes place are organizing against its use, yet only Michigan is far behind these other states.
So far in Michigan, two horizontal fracking wells are currently operating. One is located near Lake City and another in Indian River. Several more have recently been permitted in Antrim and Kalkaska counties. 300,000 acres of state land in northern Michigan have been leased to gas companies for drilling.
The only resource that Michigan has left these days is clean & safe water and the strength and majesty of its natural resources. An imminent injunction must be requested from the State Supreme Court due to the reality of irreparable harm that fracking presents, as clean & safe water is a basic property right and contaminated ground and surface water will negatively affect both property values and the heath of our citizenry.
We MUST safeguard that which makes Michigan so unique
All of us at every level must work together to BAN horizontal drilling in Michigan before we experience the devastating effects seen in other states. It is imperative that we protect our natural resources and environment for present and future generations.
Michigan's marketing campaign, 'Pure Michigan' is all about the quality of our exquisite natural resources. Indeed tourism generates $17.5 billion in annual revenue in Michigan. Yet legislators have jeopardized all that by leasing off over 300,000 acres of land for a measly $181 million dollars.
This insanity needs to stop now. Time has run out. What are you going to do about it?
Write to your legislators and Governor Snyder or sign the online petition available at DontFrackMichigan.org.Donations can also be sent to: Don't Frack Michigan, P.O. Box 65, Afton, Mich. 49705