Environment & Science

Environment & Science
1:11 pm
Sat May 19, 2012

Toledo Zoo opens new elephant space

Lucas the elephant
Toledo Zoo

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — The elephants at one Ohio zoo have a new home to roam.

The Toledo Zoo is showing off its new $15 million elephant exhibit this weekend. Zoo officials say the new area will give its four elephants more places to move and stretch their trunks.

The area called the Tembo Trail also has spruced up the zoo's home for its lions, rhinos and hippos.

The zoo's director tells The Blade newspaper in Toledo that zookeepers will be able to raise and lower the food hanging from man-made trees to give the elephants a little extra physical and mental stimulation.

The exhibit also gives visitors a better view of the elephants, including the baby of the group, 800-pound Lucas who was born last June.

Environment & Science
9:00 am
Thu May 17, 2012

Neighbors feel pressured by Enbridge's new pipeline plans

Beth Duman with one of her four dogs.
Logan Chadde/Michigan Radio

Enbridge Energy operates the pipeline that ruptured in Marshall almost two years ago.  The Environmental Protection Agency says more than one million gallons of thick tar sands oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River.  The oil spill is still being cleaned up.

Since the spill, Enbridge has been making repairs on that pipeline. It’s known as Line 6B.

Now, the company plans to replace the entire pipeline from Griffith, Indiana to Marysville, Michigan. 

Read more
Environment & Science
1:54 pm
Wed May 16, 2012

Spring brings more bear sightings in West Michigan

Ken Thomas wikimedia commons

There's been a spate of black bear sightings in West Michigan over the past few days with at least one birdfeeder as a casualty.

Residents in Greenville, about 25 miles northeast of Grand Rapids, saw a bear wandering around a residential neighborhood and sightings have also been reported in nearby Lowell and Vergennes Township this week.

Wildlife authorities with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources don't know if it's the same bear being spotted, or more than one.

Bear sightings in general in many parts of the Lower Peninsula have become more common over the past few years.

Last year, the Environment Report's Rebecca Williams took a look at these southward-drifting bears and spoke to Adam Bump, a bear specialist with the MDNR:

[Bump] said a lot of the time, the bears are young males that get pushed out during the breeding season. They’ll head down looking for new territory.

“It’s not that we’re completely full up in the north – it can’t take one more bear – it’s just that we’re getting more taking the chance and moving south.”

He said bears like to travel along rivers and forested corridors and they appear to be finding good routes to travel...

Bump said some female bears appear to be moving south too. And some might be setting up camp... and having babies.

“We think we have an established population now as far down as Grand Rapids, possibly into Ionia County. We're getting more and more reports of bears in southern Michigan, even bears that are too young to have moved, so they had to have been produced in southern Michigan.”

This past February, Williams and producer Mark Brush got the chance to tag along with MDNR biologists in Oceana County as they tranquilized a black bear to replace a radio tracking collar.

Now that the warm weather is here, the collared bear is likely loping around in search of food.

You can see the bear in a deep sleep in the video below.

- John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Environment & Science
6:24 pm
Tue May 15, 2012

Signature collecting begins in earnest for anti-fracking petition drive

People who oppose a form of oil and gas drilling known as "fracking" are officially launching a petition drive to ban the practice in Michigan.

"Horizontal hydraulic fracturing" uses slant drilling to inject chemicals or water into rocks to fracture them, in order to extract oil or natural gas.

LuAnne Kozma is the campaign's director.

She says fracking uses toxic chemicals that can contaminate the water.

"Another huge concern is this deadly toxic gas called hydrogen sulfide gas, or H2S."

A spokesman for a company with exploratory wells in Michigan says the state has some of the most rigorous safety regulations in the nation for fracking.

Petition organizers must get more than 322,000 signatures by July 9, to get the issue on the November ballot.

Read more
Environment & Science
10:04 am
Tue May 15, 2012

Michigan retailers importing cherries

Smeltzer Orchards in northern Michigan had to import cherries - for the first time ever.
Bob Allen

When you scoop up ice cream with cherries in it this summer or add a handful of dried cherries to your salad chances are the fruit won’t be from Michigan. Or even from the United States.

Extremely unusual weather this spring has crippled the state’s entire tree fruit industry. The bulk of the nation’s tart cherry crop is produced here.

The official estimate for the size of the cherry crop won’t be in for a few more weeks.

Even the most optimistic projections for the amount of fruit on the trees amounts to less than ten percent of what the state typically grows.

Tim Brian is president of Smeltzer Orchards in Benzie County.

He grabs a stem from a tart cherry tree and with his thumbnail slices open several buds.

"And right there you can see that brown pistil right there, that’s cooked. There isn’t a single good one in this whole cluster."

A bizarre stretch of hot weather in early March woke trees up from winter dormancy. That was followed by more than a dozen nights of hard freezing temperatures.

Brian thinks there will be entire orchards that won’t be harvested at all this year even if there is a scattering of fruit in them.

"I mean, with $4 fuel, even if there is only ten cherries on a tree that’s not going to be economically feasible to harvest."

Smeltzer’s has been in the business for well over a century.  The company runs a medium sized processing plant that freezes and dries cherries.

Inside the plant, a dozen people are pitting and sorting sweet cherries. The thing is… these cherries are from Chile.

"Normally we would not do this. This is actually the first time we’ve done something like this."

Read more
Environment & Science
3:08 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

West Michigan's White Lake sees cleanup progress

A map of the White Lake Area of Concern (shown in orange)
Michigan DEQ

The cleanup of one of Michigan's environmental "Areas of Concern" (AOC)  is now a step closer to being finished.

White Lake in Muskegon County is one of 43 sites around the Great Lakes region (14 are in Michigan) that have been designated for special cleanup because of heavy pollution that impairs their use.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says White Lake has a history of contamination "with industrial discharges from leather processing and chemical companies."

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Environment
4:00 pm
Sun May 13, 2012

Final season for the S.S. Badger?

snowangel_1967 flickr

 This could be the last season for the S.S. Badger.

The coal-fired car ferry has plied Lake Michigan since the 1950s. But federal regulators say the coal ash the ship dumps into Lake Michigan is bad for the environment. And they've ordered the ship's owners to stop the practice by mid-December.

Brandy Henderson is marketing director for the Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. She says the Badger brings about $21 million into the local economy each year. But she says there's sentimental attachment to the ship too.

"It's kind of a tradition for people to head downtown and grab an ice cream cone and head over and watch the sunset and wave off the Badger as they head across the lake. So it does have more meaning than just the hard numbers and the jobs and things like that."

Legislation in the U.S. House would allow the Badger to continue to dump coal ash because it's been nominated as a national historic landmark. Environmental groups are fighting that designation.

Read more
Environment & Science
3:00 pm
Fri May 11, 2012

Pet food contamination discovered by Michigan agency

14 brands of dog food are under a recall
user rudyspetsupply MySpace

The CDC issued a dog food recall last month after they found Salmonella contamination in some packages of Diamond Naturals Lamb and Rice Formula for Adult Dogs. The recall has since been expanded to 14 dog food brands.

The contamination has led to human illnesses, according to the CDC.

From the Associated Press:

"People who became ill, the thing that was common among them was that they had fed their pets Diamond Pet Foods," said CDC spokeswoman Lola Russell.

Three people each were infected in Missouri and North Carolina; two people in Ohio; and one person each in Alabama, Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia, the CDC said.

"Our folks are really wanting people to be aware of it. They want to be aware that this is causing people to get sick because they may have product in their homes. For every one that is reported, there may be 29 others," Russell

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development says their Pesticide and Plant Pest Management division first discovered the problem on April 2.

They say as part of their "routine retail animal feed surveillance" they discovered Salmonella Infantis in a sample of the Diamond brand dog food.

From MDARD's press release:

The Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) and other public health agencies have partnered to identify human illnesses that are related to this outbreak using genetic "fingerprints" of Salmonella bacteria obtained through laboratory testing. MDARD and MDCH continue to work closely with other states, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the investigation.

“Safe animal feed is a vital component of the food chain and has a direct impact on food safety. This is an important case study on how animal feed safety and human health are connected,” said Keith Creagh, MDARD Director “MDARD's participation in the Food and Drug Administration’s Rapid Response Team and animal feed safety programs has provided significant  assistance in helping identify and reduce food  and feed safety hazards.”

MDARD officials say Salmonella infections can be spread between animals and people, and that people should follow these tips when handling pet food:

  • clean pet dishes with soap and warm water
  • wash hands after feeding pets and cleaning up their waste
  • use designated feeding utensils
  • keep pet food in original containers and at the proper temperatures (keep dry food dry)
  • canned food should be refrigerated after opening
  • keep infants and small children away from pet feeding areas
  • do not allow infants and small children to touch or eat animal food

Your pet could have a Salmonella infection if it shows the following signs:

  • lethargy
  • diarrhea or bloody diarrhea
  • fever
  • vomiting

Officials say some pets will have only decreased appetite, fever, and abdominal pain.

Contact your veterinarian if your pet has consumed one of the recalled products and shows these symptoms.

Environment & Science
12:37 pm
Fri May 11, 2012

Michigan DEQ clarifies comments on drilling accidents

On The Environment Report yesterday, we heard from Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Communications Director Brad Wurfel about his agency's views on the safety of hydraulic fracturing.

In the interview, he said drillers have been using hydraulic fracturing since the 1960's to drill vertical wells. 

We pointed out there are important differences between traditional vertical drilling and a newer method called horizontal hydraulic fracturing. The new method allows drillers to get natural gas that's much deeper underground.

One of the things to note:

With the more traditional, vertical hydraulic fracturing we’re talking about tens of thousands of gallons of water – horizontal hydraulic fracturing uses millions of gallons.

This is water that’s contaminated and cannot be used again.

In the interview, Brad Wurfel said:

"In 50 years and 12,000 wells around the state, we’ve never had to respond to an environmental emergency with hydraulic fracturing."

I followed up with him on this point today, to ask about this leak that my colleague Lester Graham reported on in February 2011:

The Associated Press reports a leak has shut down a drilling operation not too far from Traverse City.

It's not yet clear whether it will damage underground water sources.  It does raise questions as to whether Michigan regulations are adequate to protect the environment while exploiting the gas reserves in the state.

Here is Wurfel's response:

Read more
Environment & Science
12:43 pm
Thu May 10, 2012

Enbridge wants to replace 200 miles of aging pipeline in Michigan

Enbridge's 6B pipeline runs through Michigan. The smaller yellow portions on this map are being replaced this year. The longer yellow portion is near approval and will likely be replaced this year as well.
Enbridge Inc.

Enbridge Inc. has been replacing and repairing parts of line "6B" as part of its maintenance and rehabilitation program. The pipeline was built in 1969.

Now company officials want to replace 200 miles of the oil pipeline in Michigan.

The "6B" pipeline broke open near Marshall, Michigan in 2010 and spilled more that 840,000 gallons of thick tar sands oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. There are still pockets of thick oil at the bottom of the Kalamazoo River.

The 6B pipeline has been operating at reduced capacity since the spill.

Crystal Garcia of the Times Herald of Port Huron reported on Enbridge's plan today.

She writes the existing pipeline is pumping around "243,000 barrels of oil a day with the pressure restrictions." A company spokesman, Joe Martucci, said the new pipeline would produce about 500,000 barrels of oil a day.

If plans are approved, Garcia reports the existing pipeline will be taken offline and remain in place, and the new pipeline will be built about 25 feet from the existing line.

Replacing the pipeline will be done in two phases, Martucci said.

Part of the first phase — which includes two five-mile segments east of pumping stations near Griffith and LaPorte, Ind. and three five-mile segments east of Niles, Mendon and Marshall — already has been approved. The other part of the first phase — a 50-mile segment between Stockbridge and Ortonville — is near approval. Work on the first phase will be done this year, Martucci said...

Phase two includes 210 miles of pipeline from Griffith, Ind. to Marysville that was not replaced during phase one. A preliminary hearing for the phase two proposal will be at 9 a.m. June 6 in Lansing

The Times Herald reports if the plans are approved, most of the construction work would be done in 2013.

Environment & Science
11:33 am
Thu May 10, 2012

Interview: Michigan DEQ on fracking

A natural gas well.
World Resources Institute

Hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – is a method of drilling for natural gas.  Drillers use fracking to get to the gas that’s trapped in tight shale rock formations below the water table.  Fracking pumps a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into a well under high pressure to force open the rock and extract the gas. (You can check out this in-depth series by Michigan Watch's Lester Graham)

In Michigan, drillers have used the fracking method for more than 50 years and the state regulates the industry.  But they’ve been drilling vertical wells.

There’s been more interest lately in horizontal fracking – that’s where companies drill horizontally along the shale rock up to a mile or more.  That makes the well site much more productive.  It has lead to a boom in gas drilling and production and more jobs in some parts of the country.

But horizontal fracking also uses much more water. 

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality regulates fracking.

I spoke with Brad Wurfel, the Communications Director for the DEQ.  You can listen to the interview above.

Q: So – let’s start with water use.  With the more traditional, vertical, fracking we’re talking about tens of thousands of gallons of water – horizontal fracking uses millions of gallons.  This is water that’s contaminated and cannot be used again. What kinds of studies are being done to ensure water supplies are adequate for horizontal fracking in Michigan?

Brad Wurfel: With horizontal fracturing, they’re tens of thousands of feet down under the ground. So it does require more water, but it also requires fewer wells. Every user who uses a lot of water has to register that use as part of their permitting process.  And if it looks like the water withdrawal proposal is going to harm the environment, that permit gets denied.  Or the company gets sent back to the drawing board to find a new way.

Q: What happens to the contaminated fracking fluid when it comes back out of the well?

A: It’s handled very carefully because in other states where the regulation hasn’t been as good, that’s been one of the key problems with hydraulic fracturing.  The amount of chemical that’s in that water is really small – it’s one half of one percent.  We require that operators use steel tanks to contain it and that it’s sent to a deep injection well for disposal.

Q: A recent article in the Battle Creek Enquirer quoted MDEQ geologist Michael Shelton, who said that 6.7 million gallons of water can be used in a single fracking well.  So – one half of one percent of 6 million gallons is still 30,000 gallons of chemicals.

A: Well, when you figure the dilution, it’s not an eminent threat to the environment. That said, when you combine it with the saline that comes back up, it does make it something that we want to handle very carefully, and we do.

Q: A 2011 Congressional report found these chemicals can range from things considered harmless like salt and citric acid to chemicals that can pose serious health risks.  Things like benzene, formaldehyde and lead.   But that report also found that many of the chemicals or the chemical mixes were listed as trade secrets. What does the DEQ require companies to disclose about the chemicals they use? 

A: We get Material Safety Data Sheets, and in the event there was ever a problem with a hydraulic fracture in the state of Michigan, every component used and its percentage would be disclosed immediately to emergency responders.  We haven’t ever had a situation where we’ve needed to use it.  That said, most of what’s in hydraulic fractures is under trade secret for the mix, not the actual chemicals.

Q: But companies can still protect the mixes of chemicals they consider trade secret, right?

A: That’s correct.

Q: So, if you suspect there’s water contamination at a well site, how will you know what chemicals to look for?

A: Well, those chemicals would be... present in the environment.  And we could obviously look at what was used there and see if it was evident in say, a water supply.  That’s a pretty big hypothetical.  We’ve been hearing a lot from folks who’ve got fears about what might happen.  And I can’t speak to what might happen.  I can speak to the fact that in 50 years and 12,000 wells around the state, we’ve never had to respond to an environmental emergency with hydraulic fracturing. It’s been done safely.

Environment & Science
4:36 pm
Wed May 9, 2012

Drilling rights auction brings in more than $4 million

A natural gas well.
World Resources Institute

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources auctioned off state-owned oil and natural gas drilling rights on more than 90,000 acres yesterday.

Here’s a recap of the auction results:

  • Total acres up for auction: 108,164.70
  • Total acres leased: 91,225.42
  • Total money raised: $4,118,848.60
  • Average bid per acre: $39.90

These auctions are typically held twice per year, in May and October.

The money raised from these biannual auctions has been steadily increasing since 2000, hitting peaks in 2008 and 2010.

In the first auction of 2008, the state leased all of the 149,000 available acres for more than $13 million. The last time the state had a 100 percent lease rate was in 1981.

The first auction in 2010 had a 99.6 percent lease rate and raised an unprecedented amount: more than $178 million.

The average bid per acre for that auction was $1,507, which far exceeds the average bids at any other auctions over the last 10 years, all of which have been under $100.

-Suzanne Jacobs, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Environment & Science
6:24 pm
Tue May 8, 2012

Feds say they'll act quicker to release study on keeping carp out of Great Lakes

Asian Carp at Chicago's Shed Aquarium
Kate Gardiner Creative Commons

The federal government says it will speed up a decision on how to protect the Great Lakes from invasive species in the Mississippi River basin. The Obama administration announced the new timetable Tuesday.

Read more
Environment & Science
4:43 pm
Tue May 8, 2012

Huron Mountain Club files federal lawsuit against Upper Peninsula mine

A private club in the Upper Peninsula has filed suit to stop the construction of a new mine in Marquette County.  It’s the first federal lawsuit to attempt to stop the project. 

The nickel and copper mine, owned by Kennecott Eagle Minerals, has received permits from the state.  But the Huron Mountain Club says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs to sign off too.

The club owns nearly 20,000 acres of forest downstream from the mine on the Salmon Trout River.

The lawsuit says sulfuric acid produced by sulfide mining could pollute the river, and the club is "horror-struck" by the prospect of the watershed collapsing because part of the mine will be dug directly underneath it.

The lawsuit also says the federal government needs to consider the potential for damage to Eagle Rock, a site near the entrance to the mine that is sacred to American Indians.

The mine has been under construction since 2010.

Attorney for the Huron Mountain Club Rick Addison expects Kennecott will argue that it is too late to bring up this issue, but he says it was the company’s decision to build the mine without the necessary permits.

"The lateness argument has no resonance to me, it’s simply the last refuge of the environmental scoundrel," said Addison.

In a written statement, Kennecott says the mine has been extensively reviewed and already survived multiple legal challenges.

Environment & Science
2:36 pm
Tue May 8, 2012

University of Michigan gets $1.3M from feds for nuclear energy research

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - The University of Michigan is getting $1.3 million in federal money to help train and educate the next generation of leaders in the nation's nuclear industry.

The U.S. Department of Energy on Tuesday announced the money in research grants, fellowships and scholarships. They're part of the department's Nuclear Energy University Program and Integrated University Program that will support nuclear energy research and development efforts.

Part of the money for the Ann Arbor school will go to a research project aimed at developing new and advanced reactor designs and technologies.

Funding is going to 46 colleges and universities nationwide.

Environment & Science
10:23 am
Tue May 8, 2012

"No Sale, No Fracking"

Anti-fracking protesters stand outside of Constitutional Hall in Lansing
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

People opposed to a natural gas drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing protested outside a state office building in Lansing this morning. 

The state is auctioning off oil and gas mineral rights leases for more 100 thousand acres of public land.

The protesters chanted as energy industry and state government officials entered the building where the auction of oil and gas mineral rights leases was taking place.

The protesters worry drillers will use horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract natural gas in Michigan, potentially contaminating drinking water and causing other environmental problems.

LuAnne Cozma is an anti-fracking activist.  She says state regulations are geared to help the industry, not to protect the people of Michigan.
 
“The gas is drilled…the more gas flows…the more money flows into the (state government) coffers…and that is why we don’t trust the whole process," says Cozma.

The protesters are circulating petitions to put an Anti-fracking question on the November ballot.

Environment & Science
8:55 am
Tue May 8, 2012

Michigan DNR puts oil and gas drilling rights on the auction block

A map of the counties where drilling rights are up for auction today.
DNR

Starting at 9am this morning, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources will hold an auction to lease state-owned drilling rights for oil and natural gas. 

The state is offering drilling rights on more than 108,000 acres in 23 counties.  These auctions are usually held twice a year.  The minimum bid is $12 dollars an acre.

Mary Uptigrove is the acting manager of the DNR’s Minerals Management Section.  She says acquiring drilling rights is the first step in exploring for oil and gas.

“The lease is just a proprietary right that’s administered by our department. It does not give them the right to actually start drilling a well.  They have to seek other approvals from the Department of Environmental Quality for the drilling permit.”

The leases last five years, and the companies have the option to extend them.

Uptigrove says industry groups usually nominate parcels for the auction.  The state gets 1/6 of the royalties of any oil or gas that comes out of the ground.  That money is used to maintain state and local parks and to buy land.

Maryann Lesert lives near the Yankee Springs Recreation Area in Barry County. 

She’s worried the auction will lead to drilling under the park land... especially a kind of drilling for natural gas called horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. (To learn more, check out this recent article by Michigan Radio's Lester Graham about the benefits and risks of fracking)

“It’s beautiful land, it has beautiful bodies of water and the environmental and water impact threats from fracking are of great concern.”

Read more
Environment & Science
5:48 pm
Mon May 7, 2012

State poised to lease oil and gas rights for public lands

Protesters are expected Tuesday morning outside of a planned auction of oil and natural gas lease rights on public land.

Lease rights on more than 100 thousand acres of public land will be available in the auction in Lansing.

Mary Uptigrove is the acting manager of the Minerals Management Section of the Department of Natural Resources.    She says much of the land on the auction list is there by the request of the drilling industry.

“They may know…areas where… current development is occurring….and they want to explore for additional development,” says Uptigrove. 

Read more
Environment & Science
11:55 am
Mon May 7, 2012

Tribe from Michigan's Upper Peninsula say mines violate rights

The Kennecott Eagle Mine in September of 2011.
Kennecott Eagle Minerals

A Central Upper Peninsula Indian tribe is asking the United Nations to help curb sulfide mining in the Upper Great Lakes.

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) recently sent the United Nations a document outlining how governments are locating and planning mines on Indian land without getting input from tribes.

Tribal officials say that infringes on their treaty rights. 

KBIC member and document co-author Jessica Koski said the tribe needs to have a seat at the table.

“This is our traditional territory.  This is where we hunt, we fish, we gather, and those are rights that are maintained in treaties,” said Koski.

Koski said the mines create the equivalent of battery acid, which drains into nearby watersheds.

“That is a huge problem. There is no example in the entire world of a sulfide mine that hasn’t polluted water resources. And this is an issue that would last for generations and centuries in the Great Lakes region,” said Koski.

Mining company Kennecott Minerals said its design contains safety components that will keep Lake Superior from being polluted.

Supporters of the mine say the area badly needs the jobs.

But Koski said the mine currently being built in Marquette County is slated to last only five years, and the U.P. needs economic opportunities that are long-term.

“And that could be tourism, recreation, agriculture—local sustainable economies where we can thrive into the future and not have this ‘boom and bust,’ which is a very well-known phenomenon with the mining industry, which is why the U.P. is so desperate for another gasp of another mining boom,” said Koski.

Koski also said a sacred site near the nickel and copper mine has been fenced off and degraded. Mining company Kennecott Minerals says the tribe still has access to Eagle Rock.

Koski said their U.N. document aims to educate the public about state and federal governments approving mines on Native land without consulting tribes.

It comes on the heels of the U.N.’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

The U.S. approved the multi-nation “Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People” two years ago.  But a U.N. human rights official who visited the U.S. last week said more needs to be done to heal historic wounds, including a return of Native American lands to tribes.

Environment
5:12 pm
Fri May 4, 2012

As fracking debate continues in Michigan, Obama weighs in

A natural gas well.
World Resources Institute

Hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" has created no shortage of controversy recently. And as Michigan Radio's Rebecca Williams reported last week, debate over this controversial method of extracting oil and gas from deep inside shale deposits has made its way to the Michigan statehouse.

Read more

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