‘Ban Fracking in Michigan’ Ballot Initiative Begins Collecting Signatures and Sets Kick-off Events for April

By Peggy Case

Thompsonville, Michigan — The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, a citizen-led ballot initiative group seeking to ban horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, begins collecting signatures on Friday, April 12, 2013, for a six-month period to qualify for the 2014 ballot. Starting this week, the Committee announces its campaign kick-off events in communities around the state, including a Traverse City event on Tuesday, April 2, from 7 to 8 p.m. in the lower level of Horizon Books on Front Street and a Manistee event on Saturday, April 13, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 164 Harrison Street.

The kick-off events are for volunteers and people interested in volunteering for the campaign who want to obtain petitions and campaign literature, learn about the ballot initiative process and how to circulate petitions, and begin organizing in their community.

The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan changed its petition from a constitutional amendment proposal to a “legislative proposal” earlier this year. The legislative proposal would amend the state statute — not the state constitution — and requires 258,088 signatures. When the signatures are validated, the proposal goes first to the legislature, which must pass or reject it with no changes. If both the House and Senate vote ‘no’ or take no action within 40 days, the proposal automatically goes to a vote of the people in the November 2014 election. If Michigan voters approve the ban, the new law cannot be vetoed, however, the legislature could amend it, but only with a three-quarter vote in both houses.

“In Michigan, we have the constitutional power to write our own laws through a ballot initiative and put them before the voters,” said LuAnne Kozma, campaign director, in a press release.

The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan is part of a worldwide movement to ban fracking. France and Bulgaria have banned fracking, as have numerous communities in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Colorado. Vermont became the first state to ban fracking in 2012, and Michigan’s citizen effort has the support of Vermont legislators Tony Klein (D) and Peter Peltz (D) who sponsored the Vermont ban bill.

“It was clear in Vermont the dangers of fracking to our natural resources. In Vermont, our natural resources are our number one priority, so it was not a difficult thing to prohibit fracking forever. It passed overwhelmingly,” Klein said in the Committee To Ban Fracking’s press release. “We encourage all states, when they have the chance to do so, to ban this dangerous technique.”

Michigan is already being horizontally fracked by the gas industry, with three wells currently in operation, 27 sites that are being prepared for drilling, and 52 wells permitted so far, according to Paul Brady from Respect My Planet. Toxic chemicals — many of them known carcinogens — sand, and millions of gallons of water are used in the process to fracture the targeted rock formations, permanently destroying millions of gallons of water by turning them into fracking waste. And it should be noted that companies can get a site ready and do initial drilling before a permit is granted for water usage.
“Drilling and fracking create a tremendous amount of solid, liquid, and gaseous wastes, polluting the land, water, and air. Wastes and pollution are integral to the process, not an accident or a possibility, but a surety,” said Kozma.

When it comes to disposal, drill cutting and muds are solidified on site or are brought to landfills. Between 10 and 70 percent of the millions of gallons of water that are pumped into the ground flow back to the surface — the rest of the wastewater remains in the fracked well, transforming it into its own toxic waste well — and this ‘flowback water’ brings with it any naturally occurring heavy metals and salts that were picked up underground, in addition to the chemicals that were used in the fracking fluid. Flowback wastewater is brought to injection wells and once again pumped deep under ground, a process which has caused small earthquakes in Arkansas, Ohio, and Texas.

But it’s not just underground where there are problems. Just last month, a new study reports that in Pennsylvania, where most of the wasterwater is trucked to treatment facilities rather than injection wells, there are increased levels of chloride, one of the elements found in flowback water that is difficult to remove. The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that, on average, an additional 1.5 treatment plants in a watershed led to an increase in chloride levels by 10 percent downstream. Additionally, the study found that the adding 18 well pads in a watershed increased the concentration of total suspended solids (TSS) — essentially the particulate in the water that makes it murky — by 5 percent.

Here in Michigan, flowback wastes from a fracked well in one county can be brought to injection wells in other locations. For example, some fracking wastes generated in Kalkaska County are brought to an injection well in Grand Traverse County. Michigan has more than 1,000 injection wells, and more are being proposed and approved.

When it comes to water use, the fracking industry is using more groundwater per well in Michigan than in any other state. In Excelsior Township of Kalkaska County, one well by Encana is using 21 million gallons per frack, and the two other wells there are using 21 million gallons between them. Of the company’s newest applications, also in Kalkaska County, two propose to use more than 18.9 million gallons each and three would use 31 million gallons each per frack. This is a total water usage of 174.5 million gallons for eight wells, or about 21 million gallons each. In other states, the average is between 2 million to 9 million gallons per frack.

Higher amounts of water used per well means that Michigan is also creating much more fracking waste. Michigan depends on clean ground water for drinking, with more private wells than any other state. Michigan is also connected to four of the Great Lakes, and its water flows directly into them.

In addition to banning horizontal hydraulic fracturing, the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan’s ballot proposal would ban fracking wastes and eliminate the state’s policy, codified into current law “fostering” the oil-gas industry and “maximizing production” —“frack, baby, frack” language that provides the fossil fuel industry with uncommon special interest protection.

“It is a dire situation, but there is something we can do,” noted Kozma. “As a grassroots movement of people, building signature by signature, circulator by circulator, we are the largest, on-the-ground force in the state working to ban fracking. Committee to Ban Fracking volunteers are devoted to making change, getting onto public sidewalks, in parks, at farmers’ markets, and other public gatherings to raise awareness face-to-face, voter-to-voter, while collecting signatures for a ban on fracking.”

Only a ban can protect us from the significant harms of fracking. The language in our current law favoring the fossil fuel industry makes it inevitable that Michigan contributes mercilessly to global climate change and serious pollution of the Great Lakes, which make up20 percent of the world’s available fresh water. It is urgent that we move to alternative forms of energy to protect future generations.

The entire Lower Peninsula now stands to be fracked. Encana is drilling the Utica-Collingwood Shale in state forests and on private land and plans to drill and frack 500 to 1,700 sites. Densely populated areas such as Ann Arbor, Oakland County, and the Grand Rapids region — communities historically not affected by oil and gas drilling within their borders — are now facing the threat, too. There have been two mineral-rights auctions, and more are likely. All the state land in Benzie County and most other counties have been auctioned off for gas and oil leases by the State of Michigan. The drilling is mostly on state land, which is supposed to be land for the people. But as it stands now, Benzie is wide open for drilling, as are Leelanau and Grand Traverse counties.

This article is part of a series called The Water Column, as an on-going part of the third annual Benzie County Water Festival, taking place Friday, April 12, at Benzie Central High School. Peggy Case is one of two panelists who will be taking the stage at 5:30 to talk about fracking. Case, president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, is a member of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, and she will be collecting signatures at the Water Festival. For a schedule of Water Festival events and more information — or if you’d like to learn how you can become a contributor to The Water Column — go to http://water-festival.org or email aubreyannparker@gmail.com.

To Frack Or Not? Let’s Ask The Right Question

By Keith Schneider

BENZONIA, Michigan — It’s apparent why a great number of Benzie residents wonder about the risks of fracking and whether the state and the federal government ought to shut the technology down. The industrial breakthrough that now enables developers to recover oil and natural gas from hydrocarbon-rich shales 6,000 to 10,000 feet beneath the surface is potentially fraught with danger.

No new technology comes without assorted risks, though, especially one as environmentally significant and economically powerful as fracking. But along with the risks come benefits. The question is whether the United States has the capacity to significantly reduce the threats through regulatory safeguards, or is there one or more aspects of the technology that are so inherently dangerous that fracking should not be allowed at all?

Answering the question involves distinguishing the difference between “potential” and “actual” risks and benefits.

On the potential side of the discussion, the risks seem fearsome. The fracking process blasts millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals down a well at ultra-high pressure to shatter the shale rock and release the natural gas trapped within. Anecdotal evidence, and several instances of contamination confirmed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, point to a risk that fracking can contaminate freshwater aquifers much closer to the surface. It’s not clear yet how significant that risk is, though the EPA is studying the issue and preparing to issue a definitive report next year.

Likewise, public health authorities in Pennsylvania are starting to study the consequences of fracking to human health, and they’re also focusing on air pollution. Big diesel engines operate at the well sites, and it takes roughly 2,000 truck trips to transport water, fuel, and equipment to each well. Vehicular collisions, moreover, have taken the lives of dozens of truck drivers and motorists in both Pennsylvania and North Dakota.

Disposal of wastewater and fluids from the process has led to spills in Wyoming and North Dakota. Pumping the wastes down deep disposal wells also has caused small earthquakes in Arkansas, Ohio, and Texas. The concentration of wells in a region — all tied together by new roads, pipeline corridors, and assorted processing and pumping stations — has significant implications for the uses of land, particularly if the development occurs in a forested area like northern Michigan.

But when weighing the hazards, it’s just as crucial with this technology to consider how fracking is producing a mountain of environmental and economic gifts as well. The capacity to literally cause liquid and gaseous fuel to flow from solid rock has made this nation self-sufficient in natural gas production, dramatically lowered our oil imports, and helped reduce climate-changing emissions in the United States to the lowest levels since the early 1990s.

Natural gas has half the carbon emissions per unit of energy as coal. Burning it does not produce mercury, sulfur, and other air pollutants that pour from a coal-fired power plant. Shale gas is apparently abundant enough to drive prices so low that gas-fired electrical generating stations now account for more than one-third of the nation’s electricity, and these plants are being built on much smaller parcels of land than what’s required for coal plants. Reason: gas-fired plants don’t need extra room for big piles of coal that pollute groundwater and rivers after heavy rains. A new gas-fired generating station also uses 60 percent less water per kilowatt-hour than a coal-fired plant. It takes 800 to 3,000 gallons of water to extract, transport, store, process, and dispose of one ton of coal, and it takes 25 tons of coal and an additional 12 million gallons of water to run an average coal plant for an hour.

In the environmental and economic contest between fracked gas and mined coal as a source of energy, it’s not terribly close. Coal is the dirtiest and most dangerous source of fuel at every step of the production and combustion cycle. It’s deadly to mine and causes extensive surface and groundwater contamination from acid mine drainage. In Appalachia, coal companies are blowing the tops off mountains to gain access to veins of coal. Coal-fired plants account for 40 percent of U.S. climate-changing emissions, and they’re responsible for much of the mercury that ends up in fish in Michigan and across the northern tier of states.

Here in northern Michigan, oil and gas development has been well understood since the 1970s when the mile-deep Niagaran Formation was developed. In the 1990s, drillers pursued the much shallower Antrim Shale, prompting a civic pushback due to the potential disruption from roads, pipelines, and processing stations installed in the area’s forests. Now the Collingwood Shale, two miles deep and running up the center of Michigan’s northern peninsula like a spine, is summoning the interest of energy companies.

People are justifiably nervous. Does that merit shutting down development here? No. It does mean understanding the risks and taking regulatory steps to minimize them.

This article is part of a series called The Water Column, as an on-going part of the third annual Benzie County Water Festival, taking place Friday, April 12, at Benzie Central High School. Keith Schneider is one of two panelists who will be taking the stage at 5:30 to talk about fracking. Schneider, a Benzonia resident, is a regular contributor to The New York Times, Yale360, Grist, and other prominent news organizations. The majority of Keith’s time is spent directing the news desk for Circle of Blue, a Traverse City-based news organization reporting the global water crisis, where he is the senior editor, having reporting on emerging trends in water and energy from four continents. For a schedule of Water Festival events and more information — or if you’d like to learn how you can become a contributor to The Water Column — go to http://water-festival.org or email aubreyannparker@gmail.com .

Announcing the 2012 Afternoon Musical Guests: The Faux Grass Quartet!

Due to scheduling conflicts, Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys will not be able to make the festival this year. However, we are pleased to announce the Faux Grass Quartet will be kicking it for the afternoon music and for the afterglow party at the Cabbage Shed.

Faux Grass Quartet Water Festival

The Faux Grass Quartet plays 12:20PM at the Frankfort-Elberta High School and at 10PM at the Cabbage Shed in Elberta on April 14th. Photo by Meryl Estes.

The Fauxgrass Quartet’s riveting originality has quickly landed them a place in the progressive bluegrass community since their 2010 inception. With a fresh, playful, and heart-felt approach to traditional music, Faux Grass Quartet’s performances seem to freely flow between genres with truly enjoyable instrumental communication.

The current members consist of Adam Balcer (guitar, vocals), Tim McKay (bass, vocals), Joey Schultz (banjo, vocals) and Jason Wheeler (mandolin, vocals). They have toured extensively through the mid-west and northeast coast, as well as establishing themselves as a regular presence in the Michigan music scene. They’ll be releasing their debut album in the winter of 2011/2012 and are continuing to build momentum as their unique songwriting and fun performances find enthusiastic reception around the region. FQ’s creative approach to a familiar musical style is a breath of fresh air, and something worth experiencing for the acoustic music lover.

Timothy McKay

Timothy McKay Bass

Joey Schultz

Joey Schultz Banjo, Vocals

Jason Wheeler

Jason Wheeler Mandolin, Vocals

Adam Balcer

Adam Balcer Guitar, Vocals

Faux Grass Quartet’s band members have, and continue to study with the likes of Don Steirnberg (jazz/swing mandolinist), Bill Keith (creator of “keith-banjo style” and Don Julin (composer/mandolinist) , teach music lessons, perform with several other arrangements, including Glean Infusion and Karisa Wilson (www.karisawilson.com) and are actively involved in the Michigan musical community.

Follow the band:

  • Faux Grass Quartet’s Website
  • On the Facebook
  • Listen to their music:

    Lindsey Lou & the Flatbellys at the Benzie County Water Festival

    Announcing the 2012 Afternoon Musical Guests: Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys

    Due to schedule conflicts Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys will not be able to join us for the festival this year. Instead, we are very pleased to have the Faux Grass Quartet joining us!

    The Benzie Community Water Council is pleased to announce our afternoon musical special guests for the 2012 Water Festival: Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys!

    Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys at the Benzie County Water Festival

    Hailing from all corners of the Great Lakes State of Michigan, Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys are giving a nod to American traditional music, while boldy taking their own songs in new directions. Distinct vocals, tight harmonies, instrumental expertise, and creative arrangements are all essential characteristics of their unique sound.

    The group focuses on the original tunes of Lindsay Lou Rilko, which include true-life tales of bank-robbing aunties, moonshinin’ grandpas, and celebrations of love, life, and nature. Don’t be surprised to hear bluegrass standards, Beatles hits, and contemporary classics at a Flatbelly’s show as well. It’s an infectious vibe that could only have been born in the heart of America’s Fresh Coast!

    Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys will be playing at noon time, so don’t miss this great opportunity to hear this incredible group. The group will also be performing for the after glow party later that night at the Cabbage Shed in Elberta at 10pm.

    If you are interesting in support this group please also check out their Kickstarter campaign.