Tell the DEQ: proposed fracking rules fall short

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality hits the road this week to gather public input on proposed rules on fracking for oil and gas.

Tonight the department will hold a meeting at Treetops Resort, 3962 Wilkinson Road in Gaylord. Wednesday evening there will be a second meeting at the Lansing Center, 333 East Michigan Avenue, down the road from the Capitol. Both meetings begin at 6:30 p.m.

If you've got the time, this is a great chance to have your say on a very important issue. And if you can't make it to a meeting, you can submit written comments to [email protected] until July 31.

You can review the proposed rules here.

Our take: The rules don't go nearly far enough to protect Michigan's streams, wetlands and groundwater. Here are the main shortcomings.

They don't require chemical disclosure before drilling. We believe local residents have a right to know what chemicals are in the fracking fluid pumped underground to release oil and gas trapped in shale formations. The DEQ's proposed rules would require companies to disclose their chemical use, but not until 30 days after a well has been completed. This information should be posted on the Internet before drilling begins. That would allow property owners to monitor their drinking water by testing for those chemicals before, during and after drilling. It also would provide important information for first responders in case of an emergency.

They don't do enough to protect water quality. The proposed rules require oil and gas companies to conduct water quality testing before drilling, but only in the case of high-volume fracking operations. We think that same baseline testing needs to be done for all oil and gas drilling. For instance, high-volume fracking isn't part of the plan for proposed oil and gas activity in Scio Township, where drilling is set to begin soon on an exploratory well. But there are nonetheless serious concerns about potential impacts on local drinking water. Baseline testing should be conducted so there is no doubt about the cause of any harm to water resources that results from drilling.

The rules also should go further to protect drinking water from benzene, a known carcinogen. They currently allow "produced water," a fracking byproduct that is sometimes sprayed on dirt roads to control dust, to contain benzene at concentrations 200 times higher than what is allowed in drinking water. This standard needs to be made far more stringent to ensure dangerous amounts of a cancer-causing chemical can't legally be sprayed on Michigan roads where it can make its way to drinking water sources.

They don't do enough to protect water quantity. Michigan's existing system of assessing and issuing permits for large water users isn't set up for the massive one-time withdrawals associated with fracking, which can use more than 20 million gallons for a single well. The proposed rules need to include stronger protections to ensure that water withdrawals for fracking don't impact the flow of our world-class trout streams, dry up drinking water wells or harm other water sources.

They don't adequately protect property owners. The proposed rules fail to acknowledge an important difference between fracking and conventional oil and gas development. That failure puts property rights at risk by impacting a concept called "compulsory pooling," which dictates when someone must allow drilling even though they haven't signed a lease.

Conventional drilling tapped into underground reservoirs of oil and gas. If my neighbor put a well on her property to tap into such a reservoir, it would suck up the oil and gas beneath my land. If I refused to allow the oil and gas under my land to be drained, I would be denying my neighbor's ability to use the oil and gas under hers. So, I could be legally compelled-hence, compulsory pooling-to allow the drilling. In exchange I'd get a check for my share of the reservoir.

In fracking, however, the oil and gas is locked up in vast shale formations. The shale can only be drained of its oil and gas if it is fractured-"fracked"-by injecting fracking fluid at high pressure. My refusal to allow fracking under my property does not infringe on anyone's right to tap into the deposits under her land; the drilling company could pass the injection pipe through my land without fracking there. Therefore, I should have the right to prevent fracking on my property, as long as I decline to sign a lease and agree to forgo compensation, or receive only minimal payment for having the pipe run through my land. (If you're having trouble picturing the fracking process, this should help.)

In addition, the proposed rules would allow oil and gas developers to begin drilling as soon as they have leased the land that will house a wellhead, regardless of whether concerned property owners have had a chance to object or to ensure they'll receive fair compensation.

The rules need to be revised to clarify these issues and ensure that landowners have appropriate opportunity to block fracking on their own property.

Please join us in telling the DEQ that Michigan landowners and our unmatched water resources deserve stronger protections. Thank you!


Photo courtesy Circle of Blue

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