By Kayla Deneau, Staff Writer
The Gun Plain Township board and the planning commission had a joint informational meeting Wednesday, July 17, to discuss horizontal hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, with residents.
For the Love Of Water representatives were at the meeting to give a presentation and answer the public’s questions on the issue.
FLOW and the Department of Environmental Quality have both previously met with the board and the planning commission to educate them about fracking.
Fracking is a relatively new technology. It uses a mixture of fresh water, sand and chemicals and injects the mixture in wells at a high pressure to fracture rock and release oil and natural gas.
The method has been used in Michigan since 2010. It can reach depths up to two miles deep and can use up to 21 million gallons of water per well.
According to FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood, Michigan is ranked 12th in the nation for the production of natural gas and as of May has 52 current fracking wells, 17 pending wells and it is expected to have 200 new wells by the end of this year.
May estimates showed approximately 752,260 acres of land are leased for the purpose of fracking in Michigan with about 25,000 acres leased in Allegan County.
Township supervisor Mike VanDenBerg said none of the 17 pending wells are in the county.
Kirkwood said there are many local risks associated with this unconventional method.
The first is the massive amount of water that is permanently lost. The water used in each well is removed from lakes, stream and groundwater sources.
Another risk, Kirkwood said, is the wastewater that returns to the surface and its disposal. The water can be 10 times saltier than seawater and can also be mixed with other contaminants such as various chemicals or radioactive matter.
In Michigan, the wastewater is disposed of in Class II deep injection wells, of which there are approximately 1,500 throughout the state. This increases the risk of earthquakes in the state, she said.
There is limited disclosure of chemicals used in the water mixture. Over 750 chemicals are used in the process, Kirkwood said, including at least 29 that are known as possible carcinogens. Local authorities are not privy to what chemicals are being used until well after fracking is completed.
Water and air pollution can also occur and a result of fracking, Kirkwood said. Faulty wells can create ways for fracking fluid to contaminate groundwater and aquifers. Excess natural gas from the wells as well as methane, ozone smog and soot from diesel engines, compressor stations and hauling trucks pollute the air.
She said heavy truck traffic not only increases pollution and surface spill risk, but also puts a burden on local road infrastructure and can require new road construction in rural areas. The land being used also has to house all the equipment necessary to complete the fracking process.
In 2010, 21 percent of all natural gas was obtained through fracking; in 2011 30 percent was obtained this way, according to Kirkwood.
“This is a real issue we need to think about because we are investing very heavily in this course,” she said. “I raise this question to all of us, is this the bridge to clean energy and renewable resources that we think that we need to get in order to reduce climate change impacts.”
She said the natural gas and oil industry is currently exempt from key federal environmental laws including the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, RCRA and Safe Drinking Water Act.
“Some communities have chosen to ban fracking. Some of the advantages are that if it is a real threat to your community it will stop it immediately,” Kirkwood said. “In Michigan bans are tough. Unless the legislature is going to enact a ban it is difficult for townships to do it.”
She said FLOW is committed to working with residents of Gun Plain Township to achieve the outcome that best meets their needs.
For more information, visit flowforwater.org or call (231) 944-1568.