The seminar was in response to numerous inquiries that county planners have received from local leaders and residents about the fracking process.
Hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — is done when sand, water and other mixed-in chemicals are piped into gas wells to create fractures in underground rock formations. These hairline fractures release the oil and gas, explained Adam Wygant of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
Ottawa County's geology, the history of fracking in Michigan, state regulations, environmental concerns, information for property owners on negotiating an oil and gas lease, and other information was provided at the seminar.
According to Wygant, there are protections in place to deal with the environmental concerns of fracking.
“We have environmental regulations that deal with extracted resources,” he said. “It’s wasteful not to use them if they can be extracted without harm to the environment.”
According to Wygant, there is a significant number of fracked wells in the northern Lower Peninsula, and a proposal for a well in the Ravenna area.
Richard Sandtveit, an industry expert with the Treadwell Energy Corp., said there are a lot of economic benefits to the process.
“We are a thriving industry here, and we help to provide a strong economy here in Michigan,” he said.
Sandtveit said the industry employs nearly 10,000 people directly and about 23,000 more indirectly. According to information he provided, this provides about $2.6 billion in total labor income and $5.7 billion in valued-added economic output.
Sandtveit also noted that oil and gas extraction is a boon for community coffers, as $8 million a year is paid in property taxes to townships in northern Lower Peninsula for their wells.
LuAnne Kozma, from the Committee to Ban Fracking In Michigan, said there are a lot of problems with fracking — from environmental pollution to health impacts.
“Toxic chemicals are used at every stage of the process to develop and release the gas,” she said.
Kozma said in response to the growing concerns about the fracking industry, there is an initiative to place a question before Michigan voters to ban it. She said her group needs to get the required number of petition signatures by Oct. 1 in order to get the proposition placed on the ballot next year.
“We feel that banning fracking and putting it into the state law is the way to go,” Kozma said.
Kozma said residents of other states are also concerned about the health and environmental effects of fracking. She said New Jersey and Vermont have banned it, and other towns and cities across the U.S. are also looking at it.
“We’re not trying to harm the economy,” she said. “We are trying to protect our people.”