Article courtesy of Kathryn Lynch-Morin | September 17, 2012 | Michigan Live | Shared as educational material
Editor’s Note: This is part six of an eight-part series on the expansion of Midland Cogeneration and the natural gas industry in Michigan.
Michigan’s natural gas industry is active in the Great Lakes Bay Region, and statewide drilling for the fuel is seeing renewed interest.
New methods of drilling for gas involving hydraulic fracturing, a controversial method commonly known as “fracking,” is increasing the supply of natural gas in Michigan and across the country. Fracking involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into the ground to break up shale rock, releasing trapped oil and natural gas.
The practice isn’t new. More than 12,000 well sites in Michigan have seen some form of hydraulic fracturing since the 1960s, mostly in the Antrim shale formation in the northern Lower Peninsula, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
But the technology has changed in recent years, allowing companies to tap into deeper deposits of gas, as much as a mile below ground. Also changed is the ability to drill horizontally into oil and gas formations to make wells more productive.
The tradeoff is that it requires the use of more chemicals, liquids and other materials to inject into the wells, a practice that has some groups concerned about the impact on surface and well water.
“Once you put this amount of poison into the earth there is no way to make it safe,” said LuAnne Kozma, a Charlevoix resident, campaign director for the Committee to Ban Fracking and a founding member of Ban Fracking Michigan. “That’s why we are working to ban it in the first place.”
The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan is collecting signatures seeking a public vote to ban hydraulic fracturing in Michigan. The group hopes to have a proposal appear on the November 2014 ballot to amend Michigan’s Constitution.
Other groups supporting the natural gas industry say fears are unfounded.
Dan Whitten, a spokesman for Friends of Natural Gas Michigan and the Washington, D.C.-based American Natural Gas Alliance, said natural gas development in Michigan is growing, and is an opportunity to advance the state’s economy.
“The newly available supplies of natural gas in shale formations in the state represent a great opportunity for jobs, economic development and affordable energy,” Whitten said. “Our commitment to safe and responsible development means we don’t have to trade protection of our air, land and water for the many energy, economic and environmental benefits natural gas offers.”
One Michigan Department of Environmental Quality official agrees that hydraulic fracturing is a proven method of gas production.
“We’ve never had any environmental or health issues with hydraulic fracturing itself,” said Hal Fitch, of the DEQ’s Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals. “We believe it can be done without impact.”
Fitch said the state has a long history of natural gas production, with 20 to 22 percent of the natural gas used in Michigan coming from wells in the state, many of which employ hydraulic fracturing. Some of those wells operate in Bay, Midland and Saginaw counties.
One gas well facility is located off a quiet gravel road near Interstate 75 in Linwood. It looks unobtrusive, with the cluster of green tanks and small buildings rising slightly higher than the corn in the fields surrounding the facility.
The well is owned by California-based BreitBurn Energy Partners, which invested $22 million, drilled 20 new wells and reworked 40 existing wells in Michigan in 2011, according to its website. A company representative could not be reached for comment by MLive Media Group.
As exploration companies show renewed interest in tapping Michigan’s natural gas reserves, some legislators want to revisit the state’s regulation of the industry, particularly regarding hydraulic fracturing.
Michigan’s House Democrats in April introduced a package of bills to require more disclosure of the chemicals used in the fracking process, and for a moratorium on issuing permits for certain large-scale fracking operations until the state can study the impact on the environment and drinking water. The five-bill package has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Technology.