The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said it's proposing new rules for the operation commonly known as "fracking" and expects to implement them next year. DEQ Director Dan Wyant said the agency developed the ideas during more than 200 public meetings over the past two years.
"We heard loud and clear that there is a growing concern about fracturing," he said. "We feel we have the strongest regulatory program in the country. This is just making it stronger."
Fracking involves pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into deep wells to crack open rock formations and release trapped gas. Opponents say it could pollute groundwater and do other environmental damage. Some are gathering petition signatures seeking a statewide referendum on banning it.
The oil and gas industry and the DEQ say the procedure has been used on more than 12,000 Michigan wells since 1952 with no groundwater contamination.
Developers recently have targeted deeper rock formations up to 12,000 feet below the surface. A Canadian company has said it eventually could drill up to 500 wells in Michigan. Nineteen "high-volume" wells, using more than 100,000 gallons of water and chemicals, have been completed statewide.
Wyant said the DEQ will take public comments on the new rules and could put them in place within six to nine months.
They would require companies doing high-volume fracking to use a state computer tool to assess whether the volume of groundwater they'd use would damage rivers or streams. Drillers would have to sample water from wells within a quarter-mile of their operations before starting and monitor them afterward for signs of pollution.
Other requirements would include filing separate applications for high-volume fracking permits, notifying the DEQ at least 48 hours before a fracking operation starts, monitoring fluid pressures and injection volumes and halting the process if something goes wrong.
Additionally, operators would have to disclose which chemical additives they use in an online registry. For those with trade secret protection, the chemical family and trade name could be provided.
The proposed regulations "look workable and we'd be glad to work with the DEQ to get through the rulemaking process," said John Griffin, executive director of the Associated Petroleum Industries of Michigan.
The Michigan Environmental Council wants more details but likes the requirements for increased disclosure of chemicals and baseline water sampling, policy director James Clift said.
Nic Clark, Michigan director of Clean Water Action, said the proposed rules are "a drop in the bucket when you think about the potential risks associated with fracking."
His group favors bills pending in the Legislature that would, among other things, require locating fracking wells at least 1,000 feet from houses, schools and other public buildings and allow local governments to regulate fracking operations.