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Monday, March 18,2013

Safety first on fracking

Environmental groups urge caution as new natural gas drilling method emerges

by Tracy Key
Wednesday, May 18 — The state Department of Natural Resources says that when in Michigan, you’re never more than six miles from a lake or river. In fact, Michigan is home to more than 11,000 inland lakes and about 36,000 miles of rivers and has the second largest amount of coastline in any state, behind Alaska.

However, a controversial new method of drilling for natural gas has caused concern among environmental and special interest groups about the future safety of Michigan’s water resources.

On Wednesday, representatives from Clean Water Action and the Sierra Club called a press conference at the Capitol to address the controversy surrounding this new method of drilling for natural gas.

Multi-stage horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” involves drilling deeper into the earth than was possible with previous methods. It uses roughly 100 times more water than older drilling methods and requires the use of about 750 different chemicals. At least 29 of those are known or suspected carcinogens, or are restricted due to causing other human health risks.

Environmental groups are concerned that current legislation and protective laws are not sufficiently updated to address the hazards caused by fracking.

“We’re standing here — the Sierra Club and Clean Water Action — calling on the governor to put a pause on the process called fracking until we have an understanding of all the chemicals and risks involved,” said Susan Harley, Michigan policy director for Clean Water Action.

By law, drilling companies are not required to disclose exactly which chemicals are being used in the process. “At any time in the process there could be an accident, and since we do not know what these chemicals are, we do not know all of the potential effects,” Harley said.

Harley added that the natural gas industry is booming. She is concerned that this will lead to rushed drilling procedures and potentially hasty actions from drilling companies. Because of this, she and many others concerned about the safety of Michigan’s water are opposed to moving forward with fracking “without adequate safeguards.”

Harley noted a small spill in Benzie County that occurred this year and if the process is not halted and reassessed, more accidents are likely in store. The concern is the risk of these fracking chemicals potentially migrating into lakes, rivers and drinking water.

“Because of the number of changes that need to occur, it will take a while to fix this process,” said Rita Chapman of the Sierra Club. “We need to look at other states’ legislation and make sure that Michigan doesn’t fall into serious problems.”

These groups want updated laws that require public disclosure of which chemicals are used in the fracking process. Additionally, they propose eliminating certain exemptions from water usage laws that the natural gas companies have, as a response to their increased water usage. Environmental groups also want to see more research done on the potential effects of chemicals used in the process and the potential effects on natural water systems as a result of drastically increasing water withdrawals. Public participation and assessment in the permit process for drilling new wells and increased reviews of potential drilling sites are also being demanded.

“Take action!” Harley urged the public. “Write to the governor and lawmakers to say we don’t want fracking to go forward unless it is safely done.”

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