Let the Fracking Begin:

Let the Fracking Begin: State Auctions Off Oil and Gas Rights,  Republican Commissioners Block Discussion

(C.Proxmire, July 1, 2012)

The State of Michigan has opened up leases for land to be used for gas and mineral rights, including areas in North Oakland County.  The leases do not permit above-ground development, but leaseholders could access gas through sideways drilling or fracking.  Oakland County Commissioners Craig Covey, D-Ferndale, and Jim Nash,  D-Farmington Hills, have been pushing for the Commission to request a temporary moratorium on fracking in Oakland County until more research can be done on the effects.

On May 8, the Department of Natural Resources auctioned off parcels statewide, including in Oakland County.  According to Oakland Lakefront,  “The oil and gas rights associated with 18,347 acres in the county were leased for a total of $616,514, with the average bid per acre at $33.60. The leases carry a five-year terms. Two companies out of Traverse City — Jordan Development Company and Pteradon Energy — leased all of the Oakland County rights available during the May 8 auction. Pteradon leased the rights associated with 664 acres, while Jordan leased the rights to over 17,600 acres.”

According to the Oakland Lakefront article, the parcels of land sold cannot be developed and that anyone wishing to tap into any oil, gas, or mineral deposits would need to purchase adjacent land and drill sideways, and that such drilling would require additional permitting.  The parcels, some of which are under Cass Lake, were sold for their mineral rights, not for above-ground development.

Fracking is the highly controversial industrial mining process of retrieving difficult to access natural gas deposits using high pressure injection of vast amounts of water and chemicals deep underground.  This process fractures the rock and shale, thereby releasing the natural gas.  Current government regulation of the practice is virtually non-existent.    Many environmental groups, as well as government experts, believe ground water can be contaminated by the chemicals used.   In neighboring states, fracking is believed by many to be causing unusual earth tremors and earthquakes in otherwise quiet areas of the strata.

At the May 17 County Commission meeting Covey and Nash requested that the issue be removed from committee, where it has sat since fall of 2011, so it could be discussed.  The vote to discharge the resolution from committee failed by a 15 to 9 vote, silencing any possible consideration.

As communities across the state began adopting policies about hydraulic fracturing last fall, Ferndale was at the head of the anti-fracking pack.  At their Sept. 12, 2011 meeting, Ferndale  City Council adopted a resolution in support of statewide and national bans on using fracking to acquire natural gas, with Food and Water Watch activist Lynna Kaucheck sharing information about the controversial industrial practice. Ferndale was the second city in Michigan to pass such a resolution, following Detroit’s resolution in July 2011.

And on Sept. 22, 2011 Covey introduced a resolution to the Oakland County Board of Commissioners calling for a moratorium “until adequate environmental studies are completed regarding the potential risks of hydraulic fracturing to our natural resources including local water supplies within the State of Michigan and until regulations and safeguards are in place to fully protect our State’s water supply and environment from such operations.”  The resolution also makes 14 different points about fracking to support the temporary halting of permits, including the fact that “the oil and gas industry is not required by federal law to publicly disclose chemical formulas of hydraulic fracturing fluids so that this information is publicly available for health and safety purposes.”

“The potential for an accidental wellhead blowout would threaten the waters of Cass Lake and Orchard Lake, where leases run close to open waters. A serious accident could be catastrophic to these spectacular recreational water resources,” Nash said.

The resolution would have asked the Michigan state legislature to consider a temporary moratorium on new permits for additional fracking operations until proper study can determine if regulations are necessary to protect the environment, including our state’s lakes and groundwater.

“We didn’t call to end current fracking operations, or even to ban future fracking,” said Covey.  “We just wanted to talk about the need to consider holding off on potentially dangerous mining operations that could jeopardize Michigan water tables, lakes, and streams, including those in Oakland County.

“The state is opening up vast new areas for fracking leases right now, selling mineral rights in a rush to cash in, without knowing whether future generations could be harmed by the operations.”

Organizations such as the Sierra Club, and Michigan Clean Water Action have taken strong stands against fracking operations.   Wayne County became the first County to officially denounce fracking. At their Sept. 22, 2011 meeting the Commission passed the resolution 12 to 1. Commissioner Laura Cox cast the only vote in opposition of the resolution in Wayne County.

In Oakland County the bill sits in the General Government Committee.  “Citizens just need to do what they always do to influence policy, make their voices heard, write letters to the editor or to their representatives make noise, vote, ask questions,” said Covey.

Learn more about Oakland County Government at http://www.oakgov.com.

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