fracking

Environment & Science
11:19 am
Fri April 19, 2013

Watch town hall meeting on fracking in Michigan

An image from the short film on fracking shown at the town hall meeting.
University of Michigan

Michigan Radio recently co-hosted a town hall meeting with the University of Michigan's School of Engineering on the future of horizontal hydraulic fracturing in Michigan.

We also live-tweeted the event on hashtag #fracktopia. Here's one of the more revelatory facts that came out of that discussion:

Those are gas wells. Not necessarily horizontally fractured wells. Horizontal fracturing is still in the experimental stage in Michigan. One industry representative at the meeting said "the jury is still out" on whether horizontal hydraulic fracturing in Michigan would be a good investment.

The town hall discussion featured a screening of Fracktopia, a short film about the latest techniques to recover natural gas and oil and their potential consequences. Michigan Radio's Lester Graham then led a discussion and Q-and-A session with the following panelists:

You can watch the town hall meeting in full on the U-M School of Engineering's website.

Just click on the "View On-Demand" link.

Environment & Science
4:29 pm
Tue March 5, 2013

University of Michigan taking a broad look at the effects of fracking

(file photo)
michigangreenlaw.com

The University of Michigan is undertaking a broad review of the effects of Michigan’s growing natural gas industry.   U of M researchers met with environmentalists and industry officials today in Lansing.

Most natural gas is extracted using a process called hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking. There are concerns that fracking might cause health and environmental problems.   But supporters say fracking is helping boost Michigan’s economy. 

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Law
4:59 pm
Fri February 15, 2013

State elections panel clears way for new petition drives

New petition is underway for Fracking in Michigan.
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A state elections panel today cleared the way for two new petition drives to get underway. The drives will try to put questions on the 2014 general election ballot.

Fred Woodhams is with the Michigan Secretary of State. He says this brings the number of petition drives that have been approved for circulation to three.  He says the first is “a legislative initiative regarding fracking. “  He continued, “There’s a referendum regarding the wolf hunt legislation that was passed last year, and then there’s the constitutional amendment that deals with appropriations bills.”

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The Environment Report
10:29 am
Thu January 17, 2013

Group questions DEQ approval of use of fracking fluids on roads

A natural gas well.
World Resources Institute

A group that wants to ban hydraulic fracturing in Michigan says the state didn’t follow its own rules in disposing fluid from wells that were fracked. The group, Ban Michigan Fracking, has learned the fluid was spread on public roads close to a lake and in a campground near the Mackinac Bridge last summer.

State officials have said the fluids used to fracture deep oil and gas wells are to be disposed of carefully. Those fluids typically are millions of gallons of water per well plus a mixture of chemicals necessary to the fracking process.

Last summer, the Department of Environmental Quality allowed 40,000 gallons of fluid from fractured wells to be spread on public roads.

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Environment & Science
4:45 pm
Thu November 29, 2012

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

Governor Snyder says he is bullish on natural gas.
World Resources Institute

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.

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Politics & Government
9:20 am
Thu November 29, 2012

Commentary: The transportation environment

Lessenberry essay 11/29/12

Someone once said that Americans will do anything for the environment except read about it or spend money on it.

I thought of that yesterday, when the governor delivered the latest in his series of special messages, this one on the environment.

Rick Snyder said we had to make better use of the resources we have, and called, among other things, for better recycling and for Michigan to develop a strategic national gas reserve.

Pretty much everyone nodded politely at most of what the governor said,  though not when he appeared to endorse fracking, at least so far as natural gas recovery is concerned.

However, I would be surprised if anyone in the legislature was still thinking about, much less talking about, what the governor said about the environment a week from now. In fact, the governor’s main priorities seem to be elsewhere, at least for the lame duck session.

But something else is going on in the Capitol that could be highly beneficial to the economic as well as the natural environment: Transportation reform. More than a year ago, the governor proposed a high-speed bus system for Metro Detroit. It was, and is, a great and politically brilliant idea. More than a third of the population of Detroit has no access to reliable private transportation, meaning cars.

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The Environment Report
9:00 am
Thu November 29, 2012

Gov. Snyder gives energy and environment address

You can listen to today's Environment Report above or read the story below.

Governor Rick Snyder gave what his office calls a "special message" on the environment yesterday: Ensuring our Future: Energy and the Environment. He touched on all sorts of topics: renewable energy, brownfields, land and water, timber and mining and many others.

But his main point: you can’t separate economics from energy or the environment.

“There’s not two separate worlds. There’s not a world of just environment, nor a world of energy or economics. It’s a symbiotic relationship and they tie together,” he said.

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Politics & Government
7:16 am
Thu November 29, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines. . .

User: Brother O'Mara flickr

Snyder pushes renewable energy and drilling for natural gas

Governor Rick Snyder gave a special address on energy and the environment Wednesday. Highlights of his address include a push for more renewable energy and more drilling for natural gas. As the Lansing State Journal reports,

"The Republican governor gave natural gas a central role in an energy policy that seeks greater efficiency and improvements to infrastructure such as pipelines and the electric transmission grid. It proposes establishing a “strategic natural gas reserve” designed to make the resource more affordable and defends the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to extract gas from deep underground."

GOP pushing for right-to-work in lame duck

Republicans are still working to make Michigan a right-to-work state. This comes after voters rejected a ballot proposal to enshrine collective bargaining in the state constitution. As the Detroit News reports,

"Today could be the last chance to introduce a bill making union membership optional as a condition of employment in the private and public sectors to get it passed by Dec. 13. That's the day legislative leaders hope to head home for the holidays."

Sorry Michigan, no one won the Powerball jackpot in the state

"The Michigan Lottery says two Powerball tickets worth $1 million each were sold in the state. Officials say the tickets were sold at a liquor store in Kentwood and a CVS pharmacy in Dearborn. The Michigan tickets matched five numbers drawn last night, but not the Powerball number. Powerball officials said early Thursday that tickets sold in Arizona and Missouri matched all six numbers to win the $579.9 million jackpot," the AP repots.

Politics & Government
5:15 pm
Wed November 28, 2012

Governor Snyder gives special address on energy and environment

Office of Governor Rick Snyder Wikimedia Commons

Governor Rick Snyder covered topics ranging from urban farming to "fracking" in his special address on energy and the environment today.

He said the state should do more to deal with blight and encourage urban farming in cities with lots of vacant land.

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.

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Environment & Science
5:50 pm
Wed October 24, 2012

Worried about fracking, citizens group sues the DNR

Steve Losher lives in Barry county, and he's worried. So worried, he and the rest of the citizens in the non-profit group called the Michigan Land Air Water Defense are suing the state. 

They're upset about what they believe could happen once the Department of Natural Resources auctions off the mineral rights to gaming areas in Barry and Allagen counties. It's a totally typical auction - the DNR does this kind of thing twice a year since about 1920. 

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Technology
4:24 pm
Sun September 2, 2012

Wayne State part of study on energy extraction

Gas hydrates, known as “ice that burns,” may provide a clean, sustainable fuel source in the future.
J. Pinkston and L. Stern U.S. Geological Survey

DETROIT (AP) - A Detroit university is playing a role in early but promising efforts to find and extract new energy sources.

A research project at Wayne State University is among 14 across 11 states involved in work on methane hydrates. These are structures that look like ice but have natural gas locked inside.

The project builds on what the U.S. government calls a "successful, unprecedented" test on Alaska's North Slope that produced a steady flow of gas from methane hydrates.

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10:58 am
Tue July 24, 2012

Price fixing in Michigan land deals? Lawmakers call for action in investigation

Lead in text: 
A news investigation found two natural gas companies might have colluded when bidding on drilling rights in Michigan. Reuters obtained e-mails exchanged between officials from Chesapeake Energy Corp. and Encana Corp. The paper says the e-mails show "that top executives of the two rivals plotted in 2010 to avoid bidding against each other in a state auction and in at least nine prospective deals with private land owners." State lawmakers are pushing for resolution with an investigation.
Tue Jul 24, 2012 7:03am EDT (Reuters) - Two Michigan state representatives have called on officials there to step up their investigations into possible collusion between Chesapeake Energy Corp and Encana Corp, following a Reuters report that the energy rivals plotted to avoid bidding against each other in Michigan land deals.
Economy
5:26 pm
Tue June 26, 2012

Reuters: Natural gas giants may have colluded in Michigan drilling lease grab

The Utica Shale, seen here, has recently become the target of gas and oil exploration by corporations like Encana and Chesapeake Energy.
Michael C. Rygel Wikipedia Creative Commons

Two of North America’s biggest natural gas corporations, Encana and Chesapeake Energy, are under scrutiny today after the Reuters news agency intercepted at least a dozen emails from 2010 between the competing companies that might show evidence of price-fixing in Michigan’s oil and gas lease market. 

Reuters alleges that the emails suggest top company officials discussed a plan to divide up counties in Michigan auctioning "prime oil- and gas-acreage" in order to avoid a costly bidding competition.

Both companies deny the allegation, though they admit to discussing the possibility of entering into a joint venture in Michigan.

Yesterday, Reuters reported:

Shares of Chesapeake Energy Corp and Encana Corp tumbled Monday after a Reuters investigation showed that top executives of the two rivals plotted in 2010 to avoid bidding against each other in a state auction and in at least nine prospective deals with private land owners.

Following the report, the state of Michigan pledged to determine whether the two energy giants acted two years ago to suppress land prices there.

In Michigan, private land owners can sell the drilling rights on their properties, and the state’s Department of Natural Resources holds auctions to sell state-owned rights called "oil and gas leases" biannually.

Around 2008, this market gained national attention when the Utica and Collingwood Shale oil and natural gas fields drew interest as potential natural gas mother lodes in northeast Michigan. Companies looking to access the reserves thousands of feet underground through a new process called horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, started purchasing these rights. Bids for the drilling rights per acre soared to record highs in the May 2010 auction. 

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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.

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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:

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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
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.”

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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. 

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