What Fracking Is, How it is Harmful, Why it Must Be Banned
High volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing – commonly called fracking – was developed in the late 1990s. Through this process a well is drilled several miles underground, first vertically and then horizontally, at which points companies mix chemicals – many of them cancer causing or neurotoxic – with millions of gallons of water and sand. They then blast the mixture underground under intense pressure to break up deep shale or other rock formations and extract oil and natural gas.
Michigan started this new kind of drilling in the Utica/Collingwood shale and A-1 carbonate formations. The first such high volume well was completed in 2010 in Missaukee County. Approximately 57 wells were permitted from 2010 through the beginning of 2014, of which 10 are producing - this as the result of the Michigan legislature allowing the auction of hundreds of thousands of acres of pristine property throughout the state for pennies on the dollar. The mineral rights auction brought in a modest $178 million dollars to the state, with private landowners also being paid off for leasing their land for fracking wells.
Bidding at the auctions generally began around $30.00 per acre and went up to $365 per acre. One of the bidding companies, Encana, reported 2007 net income of $1.8 billion on revenue of $11.1 billion. So why are our legislatures selling our precious public lands for a dollar-on the-dime? This is the question none of them are ever prepared to answer.
There is ample scientific evidence that no extreme energy extraction of this nature can be made safe. Fracking is inherently destructive to human health and the environment and has already done excessive damage in the 15 or so years it has been conducted in the United States. Massive ground water contamination has been documented in states such as Colorado, New York, Kentucky & Pennsylvania.
You will hear the industry and legislators proclaim that the practice is “well-regulated” and that improved regulations are the answer, but regulations are simply legal permission to allow a polluting industry to operate, and the instructions to do so. Some regulations attempt to mitigate some harm but allow the frack industry to continue nonetheless. A ban actually protects us by preventing the harm and damage in the first place.
In Michigan law under MCL324-61502, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Office of Oil, Gas & Minerals is required to “foster the development of the industry along the most favorable conditions” to maximize oil and gas production. With a law like that on the books since the 1930s, it’s no wonder that the DEQ is a captured agency, required to work hand-in-hand with the gas industry. The state receives only 5% of gross cash market value of the production of gas and 6.6% in oil, a paltry amount compared to the profits being realized by the industry at the expense of human health & our natural resources; and in addition, companies engaged in fracking have given more than $5 million to state lawmakers to “ignore the dangers of fracking and embrace it’s expansion,” according to a study completed by Common Cause in 2011.
The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan is seeking to ban this practice to protect our state, our health, and our priceless natural resources from the devastation and suffering caused by the frack industry.
The Gas & Oil Industry’s Fairy Tale
Proponents of fracking tout how the practice is not new and that the state has been doing it safely for years with no contamination or harm. They claim regulators are on top of the game and that we need fracking to give us energy independence from foreign sources, along with local jobs, and that natural gas is cleaner than coal.
These statements are part of the great fairy tale perpetuated by the gas industry worldwide and repeated by the DEQ. But science and the facts tell a much different story.
Water is Contaminated. Vast amounts of it are required throughout the process and Michigan is a state with more private groundwater drinking wells than any other state. Currently we are using more water per frack well than any other state. One frack well used 21 million gallons and some new applications seek 35 million gallons for each well, with several such wells on one pad. As much water would be used by just 17 new high-volume wells as all 12,000 Antrim-shale wells over the past 60 years combined.
Toxic Wastes Created. Industry takes this public resource that sustains life and intentionally poisons it with chemicals, as water used for fracking is destroyed, forever lost to the hydrologic cycle. Given these massive amounts of water, the amount of chemicals ingested is also enormous. Just one well using 35 millions gallons of water would require about 175,000 gallons of chemicals. More than 900 products using 500 chemicals have been identified, including the toxic BTEX group – benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene – as well as lead, methanol and 2-butozyethanol.
Moreover, we are not allowed to know what some of these chemicals are, as the industry calls them “trade secrets’. Of the known chemicals used in fracking, 75% affect the skin, eyes and respiratory and gastrointestinal systems, 40-50% the brain and nervous system, immune and cardiovascular systems and the kidneys, 37% affect the endocrine system, and 25% are known cancer causers that create mutations.
The water & chemical mixture used for fracking partially comes back up as ‘flowback’ and liquid waste that is so poisonous it is stored in tanks and trucked to injection wells and put underground, supposedly forever. Michigan has 1,460 Class H injection wells and with increased fracking, more injection wells will be needed to handle the ballooning frack waste burden.
The well structures that create a barrier between the contaminants and our aquifers are known to fail at rates of about 5% right after drilling and more fail later. Most will eventually fail. This leads to contaminated water and methane leaks. Moreover, injection wells and frack wells have been shown to cause earthquakes in Ohio and there have been an increasing number of earthquakes in several states with fracking.
Health Impacts of Fracking.
For an indication of how onerous proponents of fracking truly are, coupled with the legislators that have allowed this practice to flourish in Michigan, one simply needs to survey the well-documented damage to both human & animal health. Because the exposure pathways are water, air and soil, studies show high levels of toxic compounds in the air and water. Recent studies show that people living within a half mile around frack industry sites are at greater risks for cancer and birth defects increase within 10 miles. A jury awarded a Texas family nearly $3 million in a landmark victory last year for illnesses suffered from pollution caused by nearby drilling operations, which was the first case whereby harmed plaintiffs refused to settle with a nondisclosure agreement.
A compiled list of those harmed by the frack industry has now grown to 6,000 nationwide, with people leaving their homes due to lack of drinkable water, air contamination, and ill health. Michigan is a high hydroxen sulfide area and when this deadly gas escapes during extraction, it endangers entire communities.
Moreover, fracking contaminates our food system. Farmland converted to industrial land use becomes fragmented and loses productivity. Water and soil become contaminated for crops and wastes laden with radioactive material and heavy metals are brought to the surface. Toxins and carcinogens become part of our food.
The Myth of Job Creation & Energy Independence
While the industry and leaders from the president on down tell us we have 100 years of natural gas and are on our way to energy independence with fracked gas, the truth is that most fracked gas is shipped overseas to Europe and Asia where there is maximum profit.
What is missing now are the pipelines, refiners and liquefied natural gas terminals to move fracked gas out of the country. As soon as those are in place more wells will come into production, export will expand and prices here at home will rise as our supplies dwindle.
The Ban Fracking Ballot Initiative
Because the Michigan Legislature has failed to act, the only way we can ban fracking is if we write a law to prohibit it through a ballot initiative. The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan is a ballot question committee registered with the Michigan Bureau of Elections. They are non-partisan, grassroots and citizen-led. This proposal will go on a statewide ballot for Michigan voters to decide and the goal is to collect enough signatures to get this initiative on the 2016 ballot.
The ballot proposal will ban horizontal fracking and prohibit wastes from being produced, stored, processed or disposed of in Michigan. It will also eliminate existing statutory language that requires the MDEQ to ‘foster the development of the gas & oil industry along the most favorable conditions and with a view to the ultimate recovery of the maximum production’ of oil & gas. In its place is a requirement that DEQ construe the statue to protect human health and water. For the full ballot language go to: www.letsbanfracking.org.
The goal to get this on the ballot is the collection of enough filing petition signatures of registered voters of at least 8% of the total votes in the last election for governor. Once enough valid signatures are collected the legislature must enact the proposal without modification or reject it within 40 session days. If the legislature rejects it or fails to act, the proposed legislation goes to a vote of the people. The governor cannot veto a law enacted this way. It becomes the new law of the land. The legislature cannot amend or repeal it, except at a subsequent session, and then only by supermajority of ¾ vote in both the Michigan House & Senate.
What You Can Do. Donate money & time to this campaign so more signatures can be collected and, educational materials produced. Ask a local organization to endorse this measure and volunteer to collect signatures in your district or area.
For more information or to become involved go to www.letsbanfracking.org; and to contribute to this campaign, make checks payable to the ‘Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan’, PO Box 490 Charlevoix, Mi. 49720.