SCHOONMAKER: Commonsense legislation would control fracking

"Gasland 2" debuted earlier this month on HBO and will, in the not-too-distant future, be coming to a theater, library or community center near you — potentially sponsored by an organization like mine.
Jul 19, 2013


As a basic cable subscriber, I haven’t seen the film myself, but I have certainly seen the original.

While too sensationalized to be treated as a serious scientific effort, "Gasland" was nonetheless a powerful documentary and earned Josh Fox an Academy Award nomination in 2011. If you’re not familiar with the film, it helped make fracking arguably the most controversial environmental issue in several parts of the country today, including Michigan.

Although the term has a more specific definition in the oil and gas industry to describe the injection of water, lubricants and sand or ceramic proppants into well pipes to create fractures in rock formations through which oil or gas can flow for easier collection, it today is more commonly understood by the general public to describe the entire industrial process around high-volume, horizontal natural gas drilling. This approach is novel and has opened up previously untapped natural gas reserves in shale deposits across the country — including in Michigan’s Antrim, Utica and Collingwood deposits.

The basic concept is that the well pipe bends at a certain point, drilling horizontal, and then an extremely high-volume proprietary cocktail of chemical, sand, water and lubricants is blasted into (usually) a deep shale formation, tapping into many more fissures of natural gas than could possibly be accessed through a vertical well. Deposits once deemed unpractical to access become lucrative. 

This has created a run on mineral leases in the state, with energy companies and speculators snapping up exploration rights at unprecedented rates. This “gold rush” touches both public and private lands, with industry “land men” aggressively lobbying land owners in Michigan’s rural and extraurban communities to sell drilling rights for their land, and the state auctioning off rights to public lands at unprecedented rates. 

Although comparable numbers are not currently available for Ottawa County, a survey of land leases in Kent County showed the some 8.8 percent of its acreage is currently leased.

There is a long list of reasons to be concerned about fracking, some downright ludicrous in nature (injecting lubricants into fault lines!), but there are a handful of issues that rise to the top, some of those I’ll list below. 

The worst of it is that clean, fresh water is permanently destroyed to produce something that at present the state does not really need — a glut of natural gas production has driven market prices down and made large-scale production much less attractive (Michigan Public Service Commission). Regardless, no form of new production can match the economic and social benefits of energy efficiency — the cheapest, cleanest and most quickly deployed source of energy available to Michiganders.

Fracking destroys water to make money; as much as 21 million gallons per frack. Current and pending drilling permits estimate proposed total water used in fracking operations in the hundreds of million of gallons. More, a major drilling company has floated plans for hundreds of new high-volume wells in Michigan.

State Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright, D-Muskegon, announced at a press conference last week a package of eight bills designed to address some of the larger and least controversial issues involved in the practice. Some of the bills in the package would:

— Require the disclosure of the chemicals used in the fracking process (currently, about 930 chemicals have been used in the fracking process, according to information from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) and report the water used when it exceeds more than 100,000 gallons.

— Give municipalities and individuals the opportunity to request a public hearing before a fracking permit is issued, letting people have a say in the process.

— Allow local units of government to control fracking operations in their communities.

— Create a public-private advisory committee to study the effects of fracking and make recommendations.

— Increase the setback distance of fracking operations from residential areas and apply it to schools, hospitals, day care centers and public parks.

Unlike a similar set of bills last year, which included a moratorium on the practice to allow for further study, these bills have fairly unified support among the professional environmental community.

It’s none too soon. Fracking is happening as close as Ravenna, and could eventually find its way into the Tri-Cities community.

The proposed bills represent a commonsense and pragmatic approach that should provide, if nothing else, a means for the oil and gas industry and its regulators to understand and prevent potential problems before they occur, including those that are unique to Michigan geology. This is a simple effort to prevent the industry from learning from its mistakes at the cost of our precious freshwater resources.

Daniel Schoonmaker is the communications director for the West Michigan Environmental Action Council.



"Fracking destroys water to make money; as much as 21 million gallons per frack" where did this scare tactic info come from?

annoyed person here

and where will this water come from, the great lakes, what about people with wells like me. and if they claim it to be safe then why put it away from daycares and schools etc. cause it's not and it's damaging!


Mr Schoonmaker: Are you able to comment on the following post I made which I am copying (and slightly editing) from a previous GHTrib article on fracking?

Fracking is a necessary evil. As in so many cases, if money can be made through the improvement of a system, US inventiveness steps in. General Electric is stepping up to the plate and spending big R&D bucks to address the many problems of fracking. "One of America's corporate giants is investing billions of dollars in the new boom of oil and gas drilling, or fracking. General Electric Co. is opening a new laboratory in Oklahoma, buying up related companies, and placing a big bet that cutting-edge science will improve profits for clients and reduce the environmental and health effects of the boom."

"It's exciting to see. I think it is a positive response to legitimate public concerns about the environmental impacts" of the fracking boom, said Michael Shellenberger, one of the founders of Oakland's Breakthrough Institute. He added that other companies are working to reduce and clean up wastewater, use more benign fracking methods, and reduce air pollution related to drilling.

"It's the kind of continuous improvement of technologies that's needed," Shellenberger said.

Mystic Michael

Nobody who has actually viewed "Gasland 2", as I have, could possibly walk away believing that fracking is even remotely safe - or could likely ever be made so.

Imagine investing everything you have in the home of your dreams, along with the surrounding property - only to see the drills soon move into your neighborhood and begin drilling...and to find out that the local land use authorities have approved this activity under eminent domain - leaving you with absolutely no legal recourse.

Imagine furthermore that two years hence, your wife and your children begin to develop skin ulcers, severe neurological disorders, and various cancers - all as a result of having been drinking ground water that had been contaminated with the various toxic chemicals used by the frackers.

Imagine once again that you are unsuccessful in obtaining information about the exact chemicals used, and how much of them - because the natural gas industry succeeded in obtaining an exemption from the Clean Water Act - so that they don't even have to reveal that information to the EPA, let alone to private citizens during the process of legal discovery.

Now let's say that your groundwater has become contaminated by excess natural gas itself - in addition to the carcinogenic chemicals. After paying $1,000/month to have clean water trucked in, because the groundwater is unsafe for ANY purpose, you & your family must now abandon your home entirely - because the gas leaking into your house via the water lines could cause your home to explode at any time.

Not only have you & your family just been made homeless, but you now have astronomical medical bills as a result of having been poisoned. You'll never again see any of the equity you have invested in your home - because your home & the surrounding property is now worthless. Who would want to buy it from you - just to experience the same horrors that have happened to you?

All these things - and worse - have happened to these poor, ordinary, innocent souls who just happen to have wanted to live in an area where the natural gas industry wanted to practice fracking. If this isn't a good reason for us as a nation to abandon fossil fuels entirely, and transition ASAP to renewable, green energy sources, I don't know what is!


Thank you for writing this, Daniel. And Tribune, thank you for publishing it.

Families, farms and business in this area depend on clean water. In GH in particular our economy is dependent on tourism dollars related to outdoor sports and clean beaches.

This is a public issue that more people need to learn about for themselves, rather than blindly consuming corporate advertising. If we are truly interested in energy independence, then the state of MI should invest in renewal energy sources and technology like windmills, solar energy or geothermal energy.

It would be a great public service if GH9 or the Loutit Library would consider showing either Gasland or Gasland II.



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