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Thursday, July 11,2013

Dems proposed ‘fracking’ regulations

Bill package would require more transparency to protect the state’s water supplies

by Sam Inglot
Jack Schmidt, political director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters speaks at the press conference where fracking legislation was introduced by House Dems. Sam Inglot/City Pulse

Thursday, July 11 —House Democrats, including three local representatives, introduced legislation today to increase transparency and accountability from gas companies that practice horizontal hydraulic fracturing, — commonly called “fracking.”


The goal of the legislation is to make the fracking process more transparent and protect water supplies, Democrats and environmentalists said at a press conference at the Capitol. Fracking is a process by which a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is injected deep underground into shale formations to break up the rock and extract the natural gas from within.


State Rep. Tom Cochran, D-Mason, is the lead sponsor of one of the bills. Reps. Andy Schor, D-Lansing, and Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, are among the cosponsors.


The eight-bill package would require the disclosure of the chemicals and how much water is used at a site if it exceeds 100,000 gallons. It would also allow local governments to request public hearings when fracking sites are proposed and have more control over fracking operations in communities.


Horizontal fracking — as opposed to vertical fracking, which has long existed in Michigan — is what has environmentalists concerned, said Jack Schmidt, political director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. Foreign companies are looking to create hundreds of new fracking wells in Northern Michigan, which would have the potential to use up billions of gallons of water, he said.


Horizontal fracking, which goes deeper underground and uses more water and chemicals, has been growing rapidly over the last decade, said James Clift, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council.


The Department of Environmental Quality has 52 active and 17 pending fracking permits in Michigan, said Rep. Sarah Roberts, D-St. Clair Shores. When added up, the sites use roughly 500 million gallons of water, she said.


She said the water used in fracking cannot be recycled. Instead, it is sent back underground or held in storage tanks.


“We understand that natural gas is an important segment of the economy,” Schor said. But he said there are “growing concerns” about the practice’s possible negative effects on community health as well as the agriculture and tourism industries.


“We need to balance the economics of natural gas with the economics of water, tourism and agriculture,” Mason said. “Polluted waters and land could ruin those industries.”


In addition to the chemical and water reporting requirements, the legislation would make gas companies liable if chemicals are found in water supplies, increase required setbacks of fracking wells from schools, houses and hospitals, require gas companies to use the state's water withdrawal assessment tool, create a statewide fracking advisory board and prohibit the water used after the fracking process from being sprayed onto roads.

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