4 things from Gov. Snyder's "special address" on energy and the environment

Nov 29, 2012

Yesterday, Governor Rick Snyder gave his “special address” on energy and the environment.

In it, he said it is impossible to ignore the connections between economics, energy, and the environment while talking about subjects like land management, invasive species, and urban farming.

Here are the highlights for those who missed it:

1) Pushing for more natural gas, says Michigan has safe "fracking"

In a section of his speech on Michigan’s energy future, the governor said he was bullish on natural gas.

With regard to the extraction and production of the gas, Governor Snyder suggested that Michigan has been safely hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” for a long time.

In his address, Gov. Snyder said "hydraulic fracturing" and "horizontal drilling" have been around for decades.

...some have expressed concerns about what these technologies mean for Michigan’s environment. Neither fracking nor horizontal drilling is a new technology—they have been used in Michigan for many decades. None of the fracking that has been done in Michigan has resulted in a single water quality problem.

What might have been missed in the Governor’s statement is the distinction between hydraulic fracturing and horizontal hydraulic fracturing.

While it is true that “fracking” and horizontal drilling have been going on in Michigan for some time, the Governor neglects to mention that the combination of the two is a recent phenomenon.

It is this combination, known as “horizontal hydraulic fracturing,” that has been the source of recent controversy.

Michigan Radio’s Lester Graham explains:

Hydraulic fracturing has been around since the 1940s. Oil and gas companies basically drilled down, past the water table, through the bedrock to this layer of shale where oil and gas are trapped.

A driller pumped a mixture of water, chemicals, and sand under high pressure, fracturing the shale. The sand grains would enter the fractures, propping them open allowing the oil and/or gas to escape. The chemicals were flushed out with more water and then extraction began.

With horizontal hydraulic fracturing, it goes a step further.

Instead of just drilling down, once the drill head hits the shale, the drillers then start drilling horizontally anywhere from a quarter of a mile along the shale to a mile or more. This makes a single well site much more productive. Fracturing all along this drilling area means the released gas or oil can be extracted from this single well.

This process requires huge amounts of water, up to 8 million gallons per well. The fracking fluid that is used by companies is a protected trade secret, so it's hard to know what's in it.

These fluids can contain harmful chemicals, and there is concern that the chemicals could leach into underground water supplies.

To address these concerns, the governor announced a partnership with the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute that would study the environmental and social impacts of horizontal hydraulic fracturing in Michigan.

2) Increased Renewable Portfolio Standards... just not yet

The Governor said he wants to see Michigan’s renewable portfolio standard increased, but wants to wait until the state’s current standard expires.

Michigan Radio’s Rebecca Williams has more:

Right now, utilities have to get 10 percent of their retail sales from renewable sources by the year 2015.  The governor campaigned against Proposal 3, which would have bumped the standard up to 25 percent renewable energy by 2025.  At the time, he said that was partly because he opposed putting that kind of energy policy in the state constitution.  In yesterday’s address, Governor Snyder said he wants to see the legislature increase our renewable standard.

"Let’s celebrate some of our successes, let’s set some new goals for beyond 2015, but let’s do it together and let’s do it in a thoughtful way and do it through the legislative process, the way we should," he said.

Michigan’s biggest utility says the state should stick with its current energy policy for now.

Len Singer is a spokesman for DTE Energy. He would not say whether DTE would support legislation to increase the renewable portfolio standard.

“It’s been proven that renewables can be cost competitive under the right circumstances.  I think it’s important that this be looked at in whole and studied closely to make sure there aren’t any unintended consequences of the move in that direction,” said Singer.

3) Cities need better direction on urban farming

In his address, the Governor cited urban farming as one way to counteract the blight seen in cities with large amounts of vacant land.

Michigan Public Radio Network’s Rick Pluta reports:

The governor said too much abandoned property in Flint, Detroit, and other cities is going to waste when it could be put to a new use.

“And all I’ve seen in my two years as governor is a lot of discussion about right-to-farm, and urban farming,” said Snyder.

He said it is time to settle issues dealing with zoning rules, pesticide use, and other barriers to using urban space for agriculture.

“There’s too much talk and not enough action,” he said.

The governor also wants to ban chronically delinquent property tax scofflaws from state land auctions, and make better use of brownfield redevelopment funds.

Snyder also spoke to Stateside’s Cyndy Canty yesterday. He said local jurisdictions need an effective model for urban farming that citizens would be comfortable seeing in their communities.

4) "Ecosystem approach" could lead to public land shuffle

In the address, Snyder announced that he would take an “ecosystem approach” to environmental protection.

As it applies to land management, an ecosystem approach would value some public lands more than others the governor said.

Snyder told Cyndy Canty that this could lead to the sale of some low priority land to private interests in order to acquire more valuable land to be held in the public trust.

“If you stop and think about it, there are lands in the Michigan the state should be protecting. What are high recreational uses, where we’re getting great use out of trails? What are the lands that we can say they’re good for timber and are there lands that we have no clue why we own them?” said Snyder.

- Jordan Wyant, Michigan Radio Newsroom