Hydro-Fracking & Natural Gas Exploitation Portends an Ecological & Health Nightmare in Michigan

    icon Dec 08, 2011
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Last year I published a couple of articles concerning the dangerous precedent that the Powers That Be in Lansing are setting by selling off large amounts of our mineral rights to natural gas developers eager to capitalize on the dangerous, unstable, and potentially catastrophic process known as 'hydro-fracking.'
Oil & Natural Gas companies (most principally the Encana Corporation - the company responsible for the oil spill and contamination of the Kalamazoo River two summers ago - are hoping to take advantage of the state's fuel-producing potential.
State and private landowners are now being asked to lease their mineral rights for deep horizontal wells that involve hydraulic fracturing or 'hydrofracking' - 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 to Kentucky.
Indeed, more progressive and enlightened states such as New York recently placed a moratorium on this practice; but not so here in Michigan. Hydraulic fracturing companies are seeking to drill for natural gas in Michigan shale, threatening the Great Lakes and their feeder system in Michigan, the largest source of above-ground freshwater in the world.
Four bills introduced to the Michigan House of Representatives (House Bills 5149-5151 and 4736) must be passed to protect the Great Lakes from fracking.  So far over 8,000 citizens have signed petitions supporting these bills, which were introduced by Rep. Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor to protect Michigan's priceless freshwater from hydraulic fracturing until studies can be completed by the EPA, the DNR, and Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality.  
The use of hydro-fracking has generated massive controversy in other states such as Pennsylvania, Colorado and Wyoming, where it has been associated with toxic spills and well contamination, cancer, and long-term poisoning of residents. A moratorium is needed to delay drilling, at least until impact studies are completed.
Rep. Ken Horn of the 94th District  hails from the Great Lakes Bay Area and  currently Chairs the House Energy Committee, but apparently is not overly concerned with these issues.
In a response to Cherie Walters and other petition signers, Horn writes:
“Thank you for your email on House Bills 5149-5151.  I will continue to study the bills and the practice of hydraulic-fracturing, but even our own Department of Environmental Quality suggests that Michigan has sufficient safeguards and constant monitoring in place.  I'm not convinced of a need yet to move the bills at this time, but again, I will continue to study all information on the process.  
Thanks again for taking the time to write.”
That Horn adopts such a cavalier attitude to such an unsafe and potentially catastrophic process only underscores how badly broken government at all levels of society has become, responsive only to the narrow self-interest of corporate profiteering at the expense of the health & safety of the citizenry.
Then again, perhaps Horn is simply ill-informed.
Encana was fined $370,000 by the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission for flawed drilling practices that residents say caused methane and benzene contamination of Divide Creek in northwestern Colorado in 2004.
Because deep shale has less organic content than the shallow layers previously exploited in the '80s, the gas in these new deep shale areas is stored in micropores; and in order to get it removed in commercially viable quantities, the shale must be fractured.
The process involves drilling a hole deep into the earth and lining it with cement, which are purportedly a 'safety measure', intended to prevent hydrocarbons and other toxic materials used in the process from mixing into the water table. (Never mind that over a period of time, concrete can crack).
Billions of gallons of water are mixed with chemicals and then forced into the well. 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 Northern 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.
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?
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. Obviously, neither Horn nor the DEQ know the identities and concentrations of the other 48.
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.   Fracking has been ongoing for several years in Pennsylvania in an area bounded by the Susquehanna River in the West and the Lehigh River in the East.  
Local media programs in that area report surface accidents/clean-ups associated with fracking fluids on a weekly basis.  The situation underground is quite unknown.  
What is evident, however, is that driving around that area reveals dozens of homes with large plastic containers outside, used for storing water to replace conventional well water supplies.  The refilling of these containers with potable water is the responsibility of the fracking corporations.   The history of corporate rapacity in our country, including Michigan, is extremely ugly.  Caution is the only prudent response.  You are responsible to our children and grandchildren, and we are watching you.”
It is imperative that Ken Horn, Roger Kahn, and all of our legislators be contacted and compelled to support these moratorium bills.  It is entirely beyond comprehension how anyone who lives in this beautiful state can offer its support to such destructive mining techniques as hydraulic fracture, no matter how much financial payback is involved.  
Not only is the concern possible but it is probable according to the Office of Geological Survey report dated May 31, 2011. Fracturing also causes issues with water tables and sloping stability. When you have rock fractures, the feed line will find it's source of weakness and invade that space. Rock fractures and fluid flow are practical issues with fracking.
The fractures cause wells to go dry if you are lucky, instead of having it invaded with acid slurry and negate compounds that the DEQ do not seem to have the ability to order transparency with, as these compounds do not all come under the laws regarding necessity of disclosure.
The state of Michigan is basically a saturated marshland with deposits of rock that they are seeking to mine. The soil flow and travel when artificially sated with this type of mining can travel great distances and water  will find it's own space whether it is an aquifer that has been damaged  or your lake of choice.
The "ifs" stated in the report speak to "when there are spills and identification of water additives" and this paragraph portion is most disturbing alone;   "The MSDSs include information on physical characteristics, toxicity, health effects, first aid, reactivity, storage, disposal, protective equipment, and spill response. The DEQ will post the MSDSs on the Department's web site for public review. While the details on some of the chemical compounds used in hydraulic fracturing are exempted from disclosure on the MSDSs under federal law, the MSDSs will provide enough information for the DEQ to track and monitor spills."
And we're supposed to sleep safe and sound with this type of assurance?
There is no more critical issue before us than getting a moratorium through on this practice, especially given the reality of Michigan as a 'fresh-water' haven.

You can write Ken Horn about changing his support and position on this issue by emailing him at kennethhorn@house.mi.gov.

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    Merridy Merridy

    Thank you for this well-written article. We moved to Holland area last summer and spent 10 months looking for a house that didn\'t have water issues in the basement. When we couldn\'t find one, we looked for land—just a dry spot that didn\'t have Google/Bing images of water drainage problems. If people don\'t think FRACKING IS A PROBLEM, they are just ignorant. How could we easily allow this kind of pollution into our water systems? It is all connected.