The changes announced by the Department of Environmental Quality are intended to give people living near proposed wells more information and help regulators improve monitoring how fracking affects water resources, officials said.
"Oil and gas development isn't risk-free; there's always a risk of spills and mishaps," said Hal Fitch, chief of the DEQ's office of oil, gas and minerals. "But we've got a long, safe history of hydraulic fracturing in Michigan. We think these rules augment that, and give some additional assurance."
Fracking involves pumping large volumes of water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into wells to break apart rock and released trapped oil and gas. The process is an economic boon, enabling companies to tap previously unreachable deposits. But critics say it uses too much water and could contaminate groundwater supplies.
The DEQ's rule revisions focus on high-volume fracking, a newer type of drilling that uses more water than older methods.
A well drilled by Encana Oil and Gas in Kalkaska County in 2012 used more than 21 million gallons, according to an online registry called FracFocus. DEQ records say there are 10 producing high-volume fracking oil and gas wells in Michigan and 27 pending, active permits.
One new requirement requires baseline water well testing in the area before high-volume fracking can begin. Another requires full disclosure of types and volumes of chemicals being injected into the ground.
James Clift of the Michigan Environmental Council says the rules are a step in the right direction but contends the baseline well requirement should apply to all fracking operations.
"The oil and gas developers don't like it because they are spending more," Clift said. "But instead of testing 10 wells, they could test one or two wells. They could scale it to the size of the operation."
Developers will be required to disclose in permit applications if they intend to conduct high-volume fracking and must inform the DEQ 48 hours before beginning such an operation.
"The industry feels like they are doing an adequate job right now," Fitch said. "They are not crazy about additional reporting requirements, but they recognize there's a call to provide the information people want."