oil

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.

Creative Commons photo by user Meridithw

Ben Freed over at The Ann Arbor News has more about the plans being developed by Traverse City-based West Bay Exploration Company. Freed reports the company has approached landowners in Scio Township looking to obtain their mineral rights.

West Bay says it would drill for oil using a "traditional" method. The company's vice president, Patrick Gibson, said it wouldn't use horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking:

“We’re a conventional oil and gas exploration company, we do not utilize hydraulic fracturing,” Gibson said.

“What we’re looking for is geological formations that are already fractured so that we don’t have to do any fracturing ourselves, hydraulic or otherwise.”

Landowners are being advised to educate themselves before signing contracts offered by the company. MSU's extension office offers insights into oil and gas leasing on this page.

morguefile

The Michigan Legislature recently approved a package of bills that’s causing a split between environmental groups.

The legislation would lower a tax on a certain kind of oil recovery.

Jake Neher is the capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network and he’s been following this story. I spoke with him about these bills for today's Environment Report.

“The main bill in the package would cut the state severance tax from 6.6% to 4% for companies using what’s called enhanced production or enhanced recovery methods to essentially clean out low-producing oil wells. So basically, they pump a bunch of carbon dioxide into the wells to help get relatively little amounts of oil out of them. In other words, companies would pay a lower tax rate on the oil they take out of the ground using that process.”

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Lansing public library's effort to ban openly carried firearms has ended

"The Michigan Supreme Court has decided not to hear an appeal of a case involving libraries and guns. Lansing’s library system had banned openly carried firearms in its branches.  But the Court of Appeals found that violated a state law preventing local units of government from banning weapons," Steve Carmody reports.

Bill would affect taxes related to oil and gas wells

A bill in Lansing would exempt things like piping, machinery, tanks and other equipment used to develop oil and gas wells from personal property taxes. As the Detroit Free Press reports,

"Leaders of some of Michigan's poorest counties in the northern Lower Peninsula say the change would cost their communities millions of dollars while giving a tax break to oil and gas companies."

Gretchen Whitmer will not be on 2014 ballot

Senate minority leader Gretchen Whitmer confirmed yesterday she will not be on the statewide ballot in 2014. As the Detroit Free Press reports,

"She announced early this year that she wasn’t going to run for governor in 2014. But speculation had been rampant that Whitmer could be a serious and credible candidate for Attorney General or Lieutenant Governor. 'But it’s just not the time,' she told the Free Press Thursday. 'My girls are 10 and 11, and I thought when they got to this age they wouldn’t need me as much, but they need me more.'"

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.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A new oil pipeline is going underground in Michigan.

Enbridge Energy says this new pipeline will be bigger (36 inches vs. 30 inches) - it will pump more oil to the Marathon refinery in Detroit - and they say the pipeline will be safer. (The map in the slideshow above shows where the new line is going in.)

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

In the United States, we’re using more renewable energy than we were a few years ago.

A.J. Simon is the group leader for energy with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The lab just released a chart outlining the nation’s energy use for the year 2012.

“We are significantly expanding our use of wind energy, the technology for wind turbines has come a long way in the past decade or so, and both federal and state policy in terms of renewable portfolio standards as well as financial incentives have encouraged a lot of utilities to install a lot of wind power so we’re seeing huge growth in the generation of electricity from wind," he says.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A state lawmaker says he has a plan to drive down Michigan’s high gas prices.

Senator Rick Jones says it’s time to build a new oil refinery.   But not everyone’s sold on the plan.

Jones introduced legislation that would give a ten-year property and equipment tax exemption to any company willing to build a new refinery in Michigan.

“And that’s exactly what we need in Michigan to make sure we have adequate supplies,” says Jones.

Jones says more supply means lower prices at the pump.

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.

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. 

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.

A new analysis by the Associated Press found no correlation between domestic oil drilling and gas prices in the U.S.

So this famous line will get you applause...

... but it won't get you lower gas prices.

"Drill, baby, drill has nothing to do with it," said Judith Dwarkin, chief energy economist at ITG investment research. Two other energy economists said the same thing and experts in the field have been making that observation for decades.

And it's not just Republicans who make these kind of claims.

Placing blame for high gas prices is low-hanging, point-scoring fruit for any politician.

The Associated Press points out that on the campaign trail in 2008, then presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama said "here in Ohio, you're paying nearly $3.70 a gallon for gas, 2-1/2 times what it cost when George Bush took office."

He's not blaming the White House occupant these days.

The Associated Press' Seth Borenstein and Jack Gillum wrote "statistical analysis of 36 years of monthly, inflation-adjusted gasoline prices and U.S. domestic oil production by The Associated Press shows no statistical correlation between how much oil comes out of U.S. wells and the price at the pump."

There’s new cleanup work underway along Talmadge Creek near Marshall…near the site of 2010’s Enbridge oil spill.

The area was already the site of a massive cleanup effort. But now… work crews are back. The first round was supervised by the Environmental Protection Agency. This time… the state Department of Environmental Quality is overseeing the work.

Mark DuCharme is with the DEQ. He says the initial EPA-supervised cleanup focused on removing visible oil and sheen from Talmadge Creek.

user braun / Flickr

There was a fire this morning at a Marathon oil refinery in southwest Detroit. The Associated Press reports the fire was contained by the company.

Authorities say a fire at Marathon's southwest Detroit oil refinery has been contained by the company's on-site crews.

Some evacuations of contractors were reported following the Thursday morning fire, but people were returning to work.

The Detroit Free Press reports that Marathon officials gave the Detroit Fire Department a "courtesy call" at 8 a.m. this morning:

Smears of dark smoke could be seen from Detroit’s east side.

No Detroit firefighters or equipment were dispatched.

Marathon officials declined to release details of the fire, but said contractors working in the area left the scene but are now returning. No injuries were reported.

Sasha Acker

It happened a year ago. An oil pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy spilled more than 840,000 gallons of tar-sands oil into Talmadge Creek which flows into the Kalamazoo River.

People were evacuated, the Red Cross set up shelter, and officials were wondering if the spill might reach Lake Michigan (it never did).

Sasha Acker is a social worker, grad student, and activist living in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

She sits on the board of the Kalamazoo Peace Center. We asked people to share their experiences with the Enbridge oil spill on our Facebook page.

Acker wrote:

I was skeptical when Enbridge put out a press release that said that the oil was all cleaned up, so I went to a spot along the river near Battle Creek. I went with a group that picked up gobs and gobs of oil and video taped it.

The news story Acker saw was published in August of last year. She told us that her chance to visit the river came this past spring when activists from the Yes Men  contacted her about a planned media hoax to draw more attention to the Enbridge oil spill.

Photo by Steve Carmody

A year ago... a ruptured pipeline spewed more than 840,000 gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River.

The crude oil had a big environmental impact. It also affected the lives of thousands of people living in the spill zone. The pipeline’s owners have spent the past year reimbursing many of them for their losses.

Wayne Groth says the odor of the oil was overpowering the first night. Talmadge Creek runs right past the home he and his wife Sue lived in for 22 years. The oil flowed down Talmadge Creek into the Kalamazoo River.

Groth says it wasn’t long after the spill that clipboard carrying employees of Enbridge started walking through his neighborhood, promising to clean up oil. He says they made another promise too...

“They said if you’re still not happy with the job... you could sell your property to them. They would buy it from us.”

Photo courtesy of the EPA

It was the largest inland oil spill in Midwest history... but we still don’t know exactly what it will mean for life around the river.

One year ago, a pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy broke. More than 840,000 gallons of tar sands oil polluted Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.

People who were there say the river ran black. Turtles, and muskrats and Great Blue Herons were covered in oil. It’s not clear what all this will mean for the river and the wildlife that depends on it.

“It’s really a big unknown. We don’t have much experience with oil spills in freshwater rivers in general.”

Stephen Hamilton is a professor at Michigan State University.

“This new kind of crude, the tar sands crude oil, with its different chemistry, all makes this a learning experience for everybody involved.”

Tar sands oil is very thick, and it has to be diluted in order to move through pipelines. We’ve previously reported that federal officials say the nature of this oil has made the cleanup more difficult. In fact, the cleanup has lasted longer than many people expected. The Environmental Protection Agency says there are still significant amounts of submerged oil along 35 miles of the Kalamazoo River.

User: yooperann / Flickr

Gas prices in Michigan are up 17 cents per gallon even though oil prices fell below $100 a barrel Monday.

Patrick DeHaan is with gasbuddy.com. He says gas prices in the Great Lakes region are between 30 and 60 cents higher than the national average.

“A rash of refinery and pipeline problems is leading prices higher as already tight gasoline supply becomes even tighter with these refinery and pipeline outages that we’ve seen in the last two weeks.”

Three refineries in Illinois and two crude suppliers to the Great Lakes region had unexpected problems, including power outages and leaks.

DeHaan expects Michigan gas prices will go back down in the next couple of weeks.

Emily Fox- Michigan Radio Newsroom

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michigan gasoline prices have reached a record high. According to GasBuddy.com, the price for a gallon of gasoline has never been this high in Michigan. 

Patrick DeHaan is a senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy. He says the old record was $4.25 a gallon. DeHaan says the price at the pump in large parts of Michigan is now higher than $4.29 a gallon. He says refinery problems are causing gasoline supplies to drop in the Midwest.

DeHaan says Michigan motorists should be aware, we may not have reached that peak pump price yet. 

 “Whatever you expect…can change.  And so, if there is another issue like this we could see prices continue higher.   But history tells us that prices will reach a new peak sometime in May.”

DeHaan does not expect the death this week of Osama bin Laden will have an affect on gas prices.

Emilio Labrador / Flickr

Higher commodity prices are translating into higher prices for cars and trucks.

GM announced their prices will go up - joining Ford and Toyota.

From the Associated Press:

General Motors says it will raise car and truck prices by an average of $123 per vehicle to make up for its increased oil and metal costs.

Photo courtesy of National Scenic Byways

The Anglers of the Au Sable has issued a new report that details the group’s concerns over oil and gas pipelines in northern Michigan. They’re especially worried about protecting the Au Sable and Manistee Rivers.

John Bebow is with the Anglers group. He says they started investigating pipelines after the major oil spill last summer in the Kalamazoo River. A pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners broke... and spilled more than 800,000 gallons into the river.

“And we quickly determined an even bigger pipeline owned by the same company flows under the Au Sable and its tributaries numerous times.”

That pipeline is called Line 5. It’s the largest oil pipeline in the Midwest... and it goes through the very heart of the Au Sable watershed. The report notes that Line 5 carries as much as 22 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas liquids beneath the Au Sable River every day.

John Bebow calls the Au Sable a world class trout stream. He says if there were an oil spill... it would be devastating.

“The Au Sable River is a major magnet for tourism and recreation. It is a river life up there.”

Photo by Rebecca Williams

At the moment, all royalties from oil and gas development in Michigan go into something called the Natural Resources Trust Fund. The trust fund money is used for improving wildlife habitat and parks and it's used to buy land for conservation.

But at a time when pretty much everything’s up on the chopping block... the future of that trust fund is in question.

State Representative Dave Agema (R) from Grandville has introduced legislation to divert oil and gas royalties away from the Trust Fund.

Under his proposal:

  • 60% of oil and gas royalties would go into the State Transportation Fund
  • 20% would go into the State Aeronautics Fund
  • the remaining 20% would go into the Natural Resources Trust Fund

The NRTF has been around since 1976. It was negotiated as part of a larger deal to allow oil and gas development in Michigan's Pigeon River Country State Forest.

I talked with the Michigan Environmental Council's policy director, James Clift, about this.  He says:

"Every corner of the state has obtained some of this trust fund money, either buying parkland or developing parkland, setting aside public land for hunting and fishing... It’s a very popular program and I think people are going to be very supportive of the way it’s spent currently."

Workers fixing Enbridge oil pipeline near Marshall, Michigan
USEPA Region 5

The last few weeks have not been good for pipeline companies.  Coming off a summer that included the mother of all oil spills you had...

Aerial photo of Talmadge Creek after Enbridge oil spill
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

It’s been more than a month since an estimated 800,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge Energy Partners, the company responsible for the pipeline leak, says it has cleaned up about 700,000 gallons of that oil.

But there’s still a lot of work to be done. The EPA is just now starting to find out how much oil is at the bottom of the river.

Air Force airplane spraying dispersant chemicals on Gulf oil spill
Technical Sergeant Adrian Cadiz / U.S. Air Force

There's been a lot of talk recently about how quickly microbes in the Gulf have been gobbling up the spill oil.  Scientific American has a report on what researchers know about the microbes in the Gulf. Reporter David Biello reports "the microbes of the deep Gulf of Mexico were ready to handle an oil spill."

EPA workers sample the air near the Enbridge oil spill in Michigan
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

(by Steve Carmody, Michigan Radio)

It's been a month since a pipeline leak spewed about a million gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River. Clean-up crews have spent the past four weeks collecting oil from the river and removing contaminated soil.

You can see photos of the oil spill on the EPA's Enbridge oil spill response website.