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 firstname.lastname@example.org.