natural gas

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.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Some Michigan residents saw lower heating bills this winter because of reduced natural gas prices and milder temperatures.

The Michigan Public Service Commission announced Friday that households that use natural gas for heating received lower heating bills. Nearly 80 percent of all Michigan households use natural gas to heat their homes.

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. 

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The City of Holland plans to build a new $182 million power plant. Wednesday night Holland City Council voted eight to one to replace the city’s more than 70-year-old coal plant with a brand new one that burns natural gas instead.

“I don’t know about you but I’ve made some bad decisions in my life and I’ve made them probably because I acted too quickly,” City Councilman Wayne Klomparens said before casting the lone “no” vote.

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.

Forestland in Michigan's northern Lower Peninsula.
user {inercia} / Flickr

A Traverse City company is abandoning a nearly decade-long effort to extract natural gas in  an environmentally sensitive area. 

The U.S. Forest Service says that Savoy Energy has informed federal agencies it's withdrawing an application to drill below a site called the Mason Tract in Michigan's northern Lower Peninsula. 

One consultant says Holland should convert its coal plant to natural gas.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Holland’s city owned utility would be better off if it burned natural gas rather than coal in the future. That’s the conclusion of a months-long study released this week.

The city hired an energy consultant firm to figure out which of its many energy options would produce the best return on investment. The firm said natural gas would be the best bang for the buck. The report says that return also considers other factors like the environment.

Kevin Lund of MDEQ shows a sample of oil and water he collected when he dug a hole in the bank of the Huron River. The analysis they did on the samples they collected showed that the contamination was coming from the old MichCon manufactured gas plant.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The city of Ann Arbor recently spent more than one million dollars rebuilding an old mill race along the Huron River. The Argo Cascades is a series of little waterfalls and pools where kayakers and people floating in inner tubes come to cool off.

But downstream from the Cascades on the other side of the river, there’s a problem.

There's been pollution lurking underground for some time from an old industrial plant, and two years ago regulators found that some of the pollution was making its way into the Huron River.

The days before natural gas

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.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Holland City Council adopted guidelines on Wednesday night to handle the city’s long-term energy needs.

The comprehensive plan covers a wide variety of energy issues facing the city over the next 40 years.

Arguably the biggest energy issue long-term is whether the city needs to expand capacity at its coal plant, or maybe modify it to burn natural gas.

Honda / Honda

Governors of 13 states that produce natural gas are asking Detroit car companies to make them a passenger car that runs on the fuel.

Advances in a drilling technique called horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, are making natural gas more plentiful.

The drilling technique has plenty of environmental critics, but Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper says it's safe when done properly, and he says natural gas is a better fuel than gasoline.

The Utica Shale
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. 

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Supporters say a ballot measure requiring that utilities get more of their electricity from renewable sources would make Michigan a leader in clean energy and create jobs.

Opponents say it would cost electric customers more money and make it harder to provide reliable energy.

On Monday, opponents with the Clean Affordable Renewable Energy (CARE) for Michigan Coalition plan to ramp up statewide efforts to defeat the issue. They argue the requirement doesn't belong in the state constitution.

(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michiganders will use less gasoline and electricity this summer, that's according to the Michigan Public Service Commission.

The state utility regulatory agency issued its annual Summer Energy Appraisal today.

Judy Palnau is the agency’s spokeswoman. She says there are a couple reasons why the public service commission expects gasoline sales will decline about 2 percent this summer in Michigan.

“Part of that is a economy. But part of that is we are also driving more energy efficient vehicles,” says Palnau. 

Palnau says the economy is also a reason why they expect electricity use will dip slightly this summer.

“Our sluggish economy is still a factor in decreasing use of electricity,” says Palnau, though the MPSC expects residential electric use will increase. 

The MPSC study also predicts natural gas sales will decline nearly 5 percent this summer. A mild winter drove down demand among both business and residential natural gas customers.

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:

(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.

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. 

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.

User Meridithw / Wikimedia Commons

Hydraulic fracturing is getting some attention this week in Lansing.  You’ve probably heard it called fracking.  It’s 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.

In Michigan, drillers have used the fracking method for more than 50 years and the state regulates the industry. 

But what’s new... is that drillers want to turn their drills and dig horizontally along the shale rock.  That makes the well site much more productive.  But it also uses a larger amount of chemicals and much more water - anywhere from a few million gallons of water to as much as eight million gallons of water per well.  After it’s used, that water is usually disposed of in deep injection wells.

Right now in Michigan, there are two experimental wells that are using the horizontal fracking method.

This week the Michigan House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Natural Gas put out a report encouraging more natural gas production in the state.

Gas drilling rig in Appalachia
User Meridithw / Wikimedia Commons

Michigan politicians are beginning to wrestle with an issue that's proven to be contentious in other parts of the country.

"Fracking" or hydraulic fracturing is a controversial method of extracting natural gas by pumping water, sand and chemicals into deep underground wells. Both opponents and advocates of the process have started taking action in the state legislature.

The Associated Press writes that "House Democrats on Wednesday plan to discuss a bill that would regulate [fracking]," while "the House's natural gas subcommittee released a report Tuesday encouraging more natural gas production."

An official from Gov. Rick Snyder's administration says the governor is reviewing both the bill and the report.

Some exploratory drilling has already occurred in Michigan's Lower Peninsula.

Take a look at the video below to see an animated view of the fracking process:

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

user cseeman / Flickr

Plans are underway for a natural gas company to construct a pipeline under the St. Clair River into Canada, stretching some 1,500 feet.

More from the Associated Press:

"A bike path in Marysville will be closed to the public as Bluewater Gas Storage LLC conducts the work. The project is expected to last about a month. The bike path will be used as a staging area, rather than using people's yards or driveways."

Blue Flame Gas inc.

Consumers Energy says its natural gas customers will be paying less this winter to heat their homes.  

Dan Bishop is a Consumers spokesman.   He says more plentiful supplies are leading to a 3 percent cut in natural gas prices.   

“In recent years there’s been a large amount of new natural gas discoveries in the United States and in Canada.  And that extra increase of supply has really put downward pressure on prices," says Bishop.  

Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management

Last May, oil and gas companies spent hundreds of millions of dollars buying up rights to drill in Michigan. By summer, private landowners in northern Michigan had signed leases promising record payments to drill on their land. But by the end of the year, the frenzy over the new gas play had fizzled. And, as Bob Allen found out, hundreds of people were claiming they’d been cheated.

The first person to file suit against the gas companies in Emmet County is Mildred Lutz.

A sturdy 92 years old, she still keeps a garden and cans her own vegetables.

Last summer, a man knocked on her door and offered to pay her almost a hundred thousand dollars for the oil and gas deep underground beneath her farm.

Mildred had just lost her husband of sixty-nine years, Carl. And she thought the money would come in handy for a whole list of expenses, including funeral costs. So after talking it over with her five children, she signed a lease and took the document to the bank in Alanson to be notarized.

She never heard another word from the oil and gas developers and she never got paid.

And how does she feel about that?

“Well, not very good. I don’t know, I’ve always kind of had the feeling of trusting a lot of people, I guess. I hate to see people being dishonest. When you do that, you’re just really hurting a lot of people that were depending on this.”

Attorney Bill Rolinski says he’s heard from a lot of people who ended up in the same boat as Mildred Lutz.

Since producing a Michigan Watch series on the "hydraulic fracking" boom in Michigan last September and October on Michigan Radio, not much has been said or done about this method of drilling for natural gas.

A leak has now put the issue back in the news.

The Associated 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.

There was a explosion at a natural gas storage facility in St. Clair County this morning.

The Detroit Free Press reports:

An equipment malfunction lead to the explosion just before 9 a.m. at Blue Water Gas Storage on Wales Center Road near Rattle Run in Columbus Township, said Joanne Alberty, who works in the assessing office for Columbus Township.

“There was a loud boom at the township hall,” Alberty said. “The whole building shook.”

The Times Herald reports that "eleven people — six employees and five contractors — were at the facility when the incident happened."

One person was treated for minor injuries. The Michigan Public Service Commission has been called to investigate.

St. Clair county Emergency Management Director Jeff Friedland is quoted as saying the explosion was a "very minor event."

Hundreds of brokers for oil and gas companies are offering landowners in northern lower Michigan contracts to drill for natural gas. Energy companies are betting the access to deep shale gas reserves will pay off big. But landowners don't always know about the risks.

An exploratory well has produced good results from a new source of natural gas in northern lower Michigan. So, energy companies have hired agents, called landmen to go knocking on doors of private landowners, trying to get them to sign contracts to lease their land for drilling.

Bureau of Land Management

A regulatory agency in Michigan says it can handle a new type of drilling for natural gas. That's what regulators in other states said before complaints about water contamination and leaking gas started coming in.

World Resources Institute

When the Great Lakes water levels fell a few years ago, people began thinking more about how much water we use. Now, this new kind of drilling, called horizontal hydraulic fracturing, again is causing concern about how we use water.

Water already has been used for vertical hydraulic fracturing in thousands of gas wells in Michigan. It takes about 50,000 gallons to drill each well and fracture shale layers underground to release the natural gas.

Horizontal fracturing, also called horizontal fracking, uses a hundred times more water.

Gas drilling rig in Appalachia
User Meridithw / Wikimedia Commons

What a fracking week on Michigan Radio!

Lester Graham of Michigan Watch and Rebecca Williams from the Environment Report are bringing us a series of reports on what might be a big part of Michigan's future: energy companies moving in and using a practice called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," to get at gas deposits buried deep under Michigan.

Just how interested are energy companies in these gas deposits? Graham reports

Lester Graham

Environmentalists are concerned drilling for new sources of natural gas in Michigan could contaminate water. They're basing that on reports from other states that blame a new method of drilling for contaminating their water.

This new kind of drilling is called horizontal hydraulic fracturing. Until recently in Michigan, it was only used in vertical wells. Drill down, pump water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into a layer of shale, fracture it and release the natural gas trapped there.

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