fracking

Eusko Jaurlaritza / Flickr

Drilling for oil and gas in Michigan is down to levels not seen since the Great Depression.

And so far, newer methods of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, are not producing a new boom for the industry.

The number of permits issued for new oil and gas wells so far this year is on track to be the lowest in more than 80 years.

Aaron Selbig/Interlochen Public Radio

Since the 1930s, Sargent Sand Company has held a permit to mine sand from its property that's surrounded by Ludington State Park.

For years, the 400 acre mine was dormant as the company negotiated to sell its land to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

That sale fell through.

Last year, the mine cranked back up again, and the neighbors aren’t too happy about it.

Flickr / Sarah Craig, Faces of Fracking

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that between 25,000-30,000 new oil and gas wells were drilled and hydraulically fractured annually in the U.S. between 2011 and 2014.

A feature article in the journal Health Affairs says the body of research on the potential health effects of all this fracking is "slim and inconclusive."

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A petition drive is launching this weekend in an effort to ban a controversial natural gas extraction process.

This will be the third time the campaign’s tried to get a question to outlaw fracking on the Michigan ballot.

LuAnne Kozma is leading the effort. She says with every attempt, it’s gotten easier to get people to sign the petitions.

Reid Frazier / Alleghany Front

A study released by a team of Penn State scientists found evidence that groundwater near a shale gas well in Bradford County, Pennsylvania was tainted by chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing and drilling for natural gas. The study suggests the chemicals traveled through sideways cracks in the ground. 

Could drones detect leaks at oil and gas sites?

Mar 12, 2015
Reid R. Frazier / The Allegheny Front

Some people think drones could help detect pollution and dangerous leaks from the oil and gas business. The technology is taking off, but federal regulations could hold back the use of these drones.

A new report released by the Graham Sustainability Institute looks at Michigan's options for regulating hydraulic fracturing of natural gas in Michigan.

The report says current regulations are written for smaller wells drilled to a depth of 800 to 2,000 feet, using about 50,000 gallons of water each. But high-volume fracking, using wells drilled as deep as 10,000 feet, could take off in Michigan if economic conditions become favorable for it. There are currently only 13 high-volume wells in Michigan, compared to 12,000 conventional shallow wells.

Bureau of Land Management

Residents of northern Michigan got a surprise last summer. They found out some drilling for oil and gas can be done confidentially. That unnerved some people in Emmet County, who now want their local government to do something about it.

Michigan had the lowest turnout in a Governor’s race this year since the John Engler-Geoffrey Fieger face-off of 1998. And, while a lot of Republicans sat out this year, it was mostly Democrats who stayed home in droves on Election Day.

So, despite the low turnout, conservatives can rejoice because Republicans will remain in control in Lansing for at least the next two years. But progressives can, perhaps, find some solace in the fact that getting initiatives and challenges on the ballot will be easier than it has been in 16 years.

(Shout-out to the Lansing political consulting firm Sterling Corporation and its attorney Bob LaBrandt for being the first to point this out.)

Proposals are by and large put on the ballot by petition drives. (The Legislature can also put questions on the ballot.)

The number of signatures required to get a petition on the ballot is based on the number of people who voted in the previous election for governor. So, fewer voters in 2014 means fewer signatures needed to get on the ballot in 2016.

Today on Stateside

World Resources Institute

Are cash-starved state legislatures taxing the energy industry as much as they could? 

Barry Rabe is director of the University of Michigan's Center for Local, State and Urban Policy. He's one of the co-authors of a new report that tracks how states are taxing thousands of new oil and gas wells.

Rabe says so-called severance taxes arose from the question, ‘What happens when you take a non-renewable natural resource and remove it for some kind of use?’

He says it's an issue some states are facing for the first time, including North Dakota, which is booming because of oil. Rabe notes that 65% of North Dakota’s budget will come from energy taxes.

Julie Grant / The Allegheny Front

Wastewater from fracked wells that produce gas and oil in Pennsylvania and West Virginia is coming to Ohio. 

Julie Grant, a reporter who has been researching this issue, says Ohio has become a go-to place for the nation's fracking waste disposal. Grant reports on environmental issues in Ohio and Pennsylvania for the program The Allegheny Front

"Energy companies point to the geology. They say the layers of underground rock that are better for wastewater storage are easier to access in Ohio, than in Pennsylvania’s hilly Appalachian basin," Grant says.

Pennsylvania is one of the top natural gas producers in the nation, but it’s more difficult to permit a disposal well there. Grant says there are only a few waste disposal wells in the whole state.

Ohio also has industry-friendly regulations. Oil and gas companies need permits to dispose of fracking waste underground.

In other states around the region, including Michigan and Pennsylvania, the Environmental Protection Agency has authority over those permits -- and the process can take a year or more. But in Ohio, the same permits can be issued in a matter of months. That's because Ohio has primacy over injection wells, so the state, not the federal government, issues the permits and the process is often faster.

Tim Evanson via Wikimedia Commons

This week, a Cheboygan District Court Judge ruled that Chesapeake Energy will go to trial for alleged fraud.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has accused the Oklahoma-based energy company of swindling landowners in northern Michigan.

Peter Payette is with our partners at Interlochen Public Radio and he has been covering this story.

How did all of this start?

Around May of 2010, the state auctioned off the right to drill for oil and gas on public land.

"And that auction saw prices that were astronomical. The state in one day raised as much money from the sale of oil and gas rights as it had raised in its entire history," Payette says. "And that's because out-of-state companies believed that by using these newer methods of horizontal hydraulic fracturing that they could make a lot of money by drilling deep down in the ground and taking out natural gas."

These companies went out to private landowners that summer and asked to explore their properties for oil and gas. The landowners signed leases. "And those promised what is called a 'order of payment' and in many cases the landowners did not receive payment and may say they were cheated and are owed money," Payette says.

Eusko Jaurlaritza / Flickr

You might recall a story last month in which Detroit Free Press reporter Keith Matheny reported that a Pennsylvania oil and gas company planned to ship up to 36 tons of low-level radioactive waste from fracking to a landfill in Wayne County near Belleville.

That news led Gov. Rick Snyder to assemble a panel of experts to take a close look at the state's regulations for this waste, known as "TENORM".

And it sparked a bipartisan reaction. State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, and State Rep. Dian Slavens, D-Canton, both proposed bills to ban importation of radioactive fracking waste.

Now, Keith Matheny has been looking at the track record of the proposed dumping ground of this radioactive fracking waste.

Matheny says after reviewing records at both the state level and the federal level, he found a litany of violations going back to the 1980s, and at least 15 violations in the past decade which involve fines of more than $471,000. 

* Listen to the full interview with Keith Matheny above.

West Bay Exploration, an oil and gas drilling company, found no deposits of oil or gas in its exploratory well in Scio Township. So the company is leaving the area – for now.

Scio Township trustees passed a moratorium against oil and gas activities, but the legality of the moratorium was questionable, according to the Michigan Township Association.

And West Bay did not honor the moratorium, according to Laura Robinson of Citizens for Oil-Free Backyards.

World Resources Institute

This Week in Michigan Politics, Emily Fox and Jack Lessenberry discuss U.S. Senate Terry Lynn Land's plan to fix Michigan's roads, if residents can have an impact on oil drilling and fracking in their communities, and how Michigan won't be a a dumping ground for other states' radioactive waste.

Eusko Jaurlaritza / Flickr

Michigan officials might allow up to 36 tons of low-level radioactive waste from Pennsylvania into a landfill in Belleville after other states have refused to accept it.

The technical term for this sludge is "technologically enhanced, naturally occurring radioactive materials," or TENORM. The waste comes from oil and gas drilling.

Keith Matheny’s article in the Detroit Free Press prompted action by Governor Snyder, who announced he will convene a panel to look at the situation.

Matheny said in another article that EQ, a USEcology company, announced yesterday that they have decided to voluntarily stop taking oil and gas related waste while this panel makes its decision.

State Representative Dian Slavens, D-Canton, plans to introduce a House bill to ban importing radioactive waste into Michigan. And State Senator Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said he will do the same in the Senate.

*Listen to the full interview with Keith Matheny above.

Steven Depolo

The Michigan Township Association says townships that pass fracking moratoriums could be on shaky legal ground.

Scio Township passed a six-month moratorium on well drilling activity earlier this week, as part of an effort to stop an oil and gas company from looking for deposits in the township.

Catherine Mullhaupt  is the Association's Director of Member Information Services.

She says the Association's legal counsel believes the state alone can deny or issue permits for oil and gas drilling, otherwise known as "fracking."  That goes for gravel mining, too.

Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management

One Michigan township wants to make special deals with oil and gas drillers. 

State law does not allow townships to regulate oil and gas drilling. But with all the controversy around fracking, some wish they could.  One township in northern lower Michigan is trying to work around that rule and have a voice.  

There are no active oil or gas wells in Edwards Township, a farming community near West Branch. However, there are some old wells that are capped off.

Member of the public with a “No Fracking” sticker on her clothes as she testifies before a panel of environmental regulators.
Rick Pluta

State environmental regulators will put the finishing touches on new rules regarding “fracking” now that public hearings have wrapped up. They expect to have the new rules adopted by the end of the year, but the state’s rules may not be the final word on the controversial drilling process

“Fracking” is a drilling method that pushes water and chemicals into wells to force out oil and gas deposits.

World Resources Institute

State officials want to hear what you think about fracking.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality wants to update the state’s rules on hydraulic fracturing. The DEQ is holding two public hearings this week on the proposed changes.

Hal Fitch is the chief of the DEQ’s Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals.

“Starting about 2008, we started hearing increased public concerns. So we met with the environmental community, we met with the public in over 200 different forums and heard those concerns and formulated these rules based on what we were hearing,” he says.

Eusko Jaurlaritza / Flickr

What do the people who run Michigan's towns and cities think about the prospect of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" in or near their communities?

A new report from the University of Michigan's Center for Local, State and Urban Policy looks into that question.

In Michigan, only a handful of communities report some type of high-volume fracking operation. It's the controversial process used to extract natural gas by drilling into shale deposits.

The center’s program director, Tom Ivacko, joined us to talk about the results.

*Listen to the interview above.

Eusko Jaurlaritza / Flickr

This story has been updated. 5/9/2014

New rules proposed for oil and gas drilling in Michigan are getting a mixed response, at best, from watchdog groups. The rules would apply to a type of drilling often referred to as “fracking.” Critics say the proposed changes continue to favor the oil and gas industry over neighbors and the public.

The official line in Michigan has long been that drilling for oil and gas is well-regulated and done safely. But many people are not convinced.

Hal Fitch is the head of the Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals. He says they are responding to those concerns.

"We saw some need to make some changes, some improvements, partly because of changing technology, partly because of public concern out there over hydraulic fracturing," he says.

Eusko Jaurlaritza / Flickr

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is proposing changes to their rules for oil and gas drilling in the state.

MDEQ leaders say they've had a successful record regulating the practice of hydraulic fracturing in the state for more than five decades, but new practices by the oil and gas industry are leading to the rule changes.

The industry's practice of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, known commonly as "fracking," has allowed companies to extract a lot more oil and gas from the ground.

Bureau of Land Management

"How many of you are here to stop the drilling?" one woman asked the crowd of about 200 at a town forum in Scio Township last night.

Big applause broke out.

It was the first indication that the crowd was not going to be a friendly one for the executives from West Bay Exploration, a Traverse City-based drilling company that has asked several landowners in Scio Township to sign over leases for their mineral rights.

The town forum was billed as an opportunity to "become educated about oil and gas leasing."

Eusko Jaurlaritza / Flickr

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality proposed a list of new rules for hydraulic fracturing in the state — commonly known as fracking.

Fracking is a process where developers pump high-pressure streams of water and chemicals into a well to clear a path to hard-to-reach deposits of natural gas.

So just what are these proposed new rules? And what could they mean to the future of fracking in Michigan?

James Clift is the policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council. He joins us to discuss the new regulations.

Listen to the full interview above. 

Bob Jagendorf / Flickr

In this Week in Michigan Politics, Christina Shockley and Jack Lessenberry discuss Detroit's bankruptcy eligibility trial, Governor Snyder's NERD fund, and new proposed fracking rules.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Bankruptcy eligibility trial begins today

"A trial to determine Detroit’s fate in municipal bankruptcy starts today. Judge Steven Rhodes will hear arguments about whether the city qualifies for Chapter Nine protection," Sarah Cwiek reports.

Judge says Detroit EM candidate names  should be revealed

"A Wayne County judge has ruled that state officials must turn over a list of possible candidates for the Detroit emergency manager job," Cwiek reports. This comes after a union activist filed a lawsuit saying the state violated the Open Meeting Act when it appointed Detroit's emergency manager Kevyn Orr.

DEQ proposes new rules for fracking

The Department of Environmental Quality has proposed new rules for fracking in Michigan. "The rules will require disclosure of chemicals used by developers, and make it easier for people to track where “fracking” is occurring," Rick Pluta reports


The petition drive is the citizens’ direct route to changing laws. It’s part of the state constitution, Article 2, Section 9 (if you want to read it for yourself). The petition-initiated law is not subject to a veto by the governor. If the Legislature refuses to adopt it, the decision goes to voters as a statewide ballot question.

 

Right to Life of Michigan submitted petitions a week ago to initiate a law that would say people could no longer get abortion coverage as part of a basic health insurance plan. Consumers would have to buy separate coverage to get abortions paid for. The only exception would be an emergency abortion necessary to save a woman’s life.

 

“I had a similar bill that came to me that I vetoed,” Governor Rick Snyder reminded folks after the petitions were filed. “And that was the right answer in my view.”

 

Snyder vetoed this language when it was part of a bill sent to him last year by the Legislature because it did not include those rape and incest exceptions. That’s despite the fact that he has identified himself as “pro-life,” that is opposed to abortion, when he ran in  2010.

 

But not sufficiently so for Right to Life (which endorsed another candidate in the 2010 Republican primary.) Right to Life has a ready response when governors veto legislation it supports. So, once again, Right to Life launched a petition drive to enact as an initiated law what Snyder had vetoed.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - A southwestern Michigan couple is suing the federal government over a planned lease of oil and gas development rights in the Allegan State Game Area.

John Davis Jr. and Marybeth Pritschet-Davis filed their lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.

They say the Bureau of Land Management plans to auction 27,302 acres of subsurface mineral rights in the Allegan game area Sept. 12. The area hosts endangered and threatened species and also features trout streams, lakes and wetlands.

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