(C. Proxmire, March 5, 2013)
Last week over 100 people came to a panel discussion about fracking put on by the recently-elected Oakland County Water Resource Commissioner Jim Nash. The discussion took place in West Bloomfield Township, a community that passed a moratorium on fracking last year after Township Supervisor Michele Economou Ureste sat in on a land auction where rights to Michigan’s resources were bid out to energy companies.
With some of the land being in Oakland County, municipal and county officials like Economou Ureste had concerns about the potential for fracking so close to home. Northern Oakland County has several lakes and streams that could be affected if new wells go into the area.
Prior to being elected Water Resources Commissioner, Nash was on the Oakland County Board of Commissioners. He and fellow commissioner Craig Covey, who now also works for Nash, introduced a county-wide fracking ban but it never made it out of committee for a vote. Their passion on the subject led them to hosting the town hall panel discussion in West Bloomfield for residents from throughout Oakland County.
Fracking is a method of mining where water mixed with sand and chemicals is pumped into the ground, causing it to crack and releasing natural gas. Basic fracking seems to have been around in Michigan since at least the 1940s, but in recent years companies have taken it further – with deeper wells, horizontal wells, and chemical additives to the water used in the process.
The chemicals are one of the main concerns of fracking opponents, because their addition means that the water is no longer safe and usable in the ecosystem. Fracking waste-water must be stored in specialized deep wells where it can never be used again. The chemicals, and the risks associated with them, are unknown thanks to special federal law that labels them as trade secrets.
Hal Fitch of the DEQ’s (Department of Environmental Quality) Oil Gas and Minerals division was on hand to explain what fracking (hydraulic fracturing) is and how his department is tasked with regulating it. He defended the practice of fracking, stating “We have to balance the use of our resources along with protection. You can’t just shut everything down to preserve a pristine environment.”
Also on hand was Joe Curry, professional well-driller and Director of the Michigan Groundwater Association. Curry talked about the consequences of fracking and gave examples of earthquakes, groundwater contamination and water waste in other states. He said that Michigan is particularly attractive because of the large supply of freshwater, which comes at no cost with the lease agreements.
One issue brought up by both sides was the matter of who is funding the DEQ and their inspectors. Curry noted that “the DEQ is funded by the companies that regulate it,” implying that there is an interest in helping the businesses make money. Fitch explained that the DEQ receives a percentage of the money gained from the sale of resources extracted from state-owned land that is leased to the companies. This income is necessary for DEQ staffing and work. “If we didn’t do it this way, it would be paid for by all of you,” he said.
Economou Ureste shared her concerns, including the damage that could be done to roads by the increased traffic needed to truck in equipment and water, and to remove the toxic waste-water. She also shared her experience with the auction process. “Although a dozen or more companies were in attendance at the DNR auction, there was virtually no competitive bidding taking place, instead each company seemingly had an assigned geographical location where everything was purchased and then it rotated to the next company and geographical area. The average selling price was $12 per acre, verse and alleged average selling price per acre in Texas at $22,000,” she said.
Audience members had questions and comments about the practice, with many in opposition to it. This was the first of several town halls about fracking that will take place throughout Oakland County. Covey said he hopes to bring one to Ferndale next, and is working with the Ferndale Environmental Sustainability Commission to determine a good date and location.
Videos of Fitch and Curry speaking in West Bloomfield Township can be found on our You Tube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/crystalallison.
For a previous article on the leasing of land for fracking see http://oaklandcounty115.com/2012/07/02/let-the-fracking-begin-state-auctions-off-oil-and-gas-rights-republican-commissioners-block-discussion/.
The DEQ has fracking info at http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,4561,7-135-3311_4111_4231-262172–,00.html.
This video shows how fracking is done, and how problems can occur. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFUxq9UolN4.