Search results for 'fracking'

University of Michigan Researchers To Report On Effects Of Fracking

11 Mar 2013

University of Michigan researchers are currently conducting a study of the potential environmental and societal effects of hydraulic fracturing in Michigan.  While there have been studies conducted on fracking in the United States, none, until now, have been conducted with a focus on Michigan. 

Initial findings are due out this summer with the final report due next year.  It is safe to say that those on all sides of the fracking debate will be eagerly awaiting the results.

More fracking pro and con

17 May 2012

When it comes to fracking, things seem to be going both ways

Last month, I blogged about the issue of fracking here in Michigan and how the Democrats are going one way and the Republicans another.  It remains the hottest topic around.

On April 18, 2012, EPA published a final rule to require well developers to institute “green completion” procedures to reduce or capture the gases created during the well exploration and development process (fracking).  EPA’s final rule creates a transition period during which well developers can either reduce emissions through flaring of gases or using green completion techniques.  The transition period ends on January 1, 2015. The reason for the phase in is that enough green completion equipment isn’t available for all the fracking sites across the U.S.   Low pressure wells are exempt and developers who use green completions before the deadline may avoid applying for new permits that are normally required when an air emission source changes its process.   There are annual compliance reports required, so the senior official signing must report accurately or face significant penalties, including criminal ones.

In May, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also announced new guidance when diesel fuel is included as a component of the fracking fluid used to free the trapped gas. A 2005 amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act exempted fracking from regulation, except when diesel fuel is used.
This month, the U.S. Department of the Interior also announced a draft of new rules for fracking on federal and Indian lands.   If finalized, companies seeking to drill fracking wells on such lands will have to submit details on the layers of rock they plan to frack and how they will manage and dispose of the spent fluids. They will also have to document tests performed to ensure integrity of the seal around the well before the actual fracking begins – a point of much contention when problems have occurred.  Interestingly, only after the process is complete, will the drillers have to publicly disclose the chemicals they used in the fracking fluid.

Now, a Michigan group,  The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan has announced a petition drive to amend the Constitution to state ban the use of horizontal hydraulic fracturing in the State and to bar any person or company from accepting, disposing of, storing, or processing anywhere in the State, any flowback, residual fluids, or drill cuttings used or produced in horizontal hydraulic fracturing. They’ve got to collect some 332,000 signatures by early July – no small task and one, given how little the public knows about hydraulic fracturing, that may be impossible to meet.

Once again, there appear to be two completely opposed positions on what to do about fracking both nationally and here in Michigan.

Fracking in the Michigan Legislature – “push me pull you”

25 Apr 2012

I remember from Dr. Doolittle the pushmi-pullyu which had two heads and when it tried to move, both heads go in opposite directions.

House Democrats introduced legislation yesterday that would regulate more heavily “fracking” in Michigan.  If passed, it would require those seeking permits to explore for natural gas to:

  • Describe the type and volume of fracking fluid to be used;
  • Provide details about each additive in the fracking fluid including its trade name, supplier and purpose;
  • List chemicals and concentrations expected to be in the fracking fluid, excluding trade secrets;
  • Identifying the service company to be used;
  • Evaluate alternative fracking treatments that are less risky and explain why those aren’t being used.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because the MDEQ required some of these things regulatorily about 11 months ago (here).

Frackers will also be required to provide information on the fluids actually used, including the trade secret information, which is to be held as secret, unless successfully challenged.  Another exception from the trade secret is the provision of information to health care professionals who need the information for diagnostic purposes.  In that case, it must be provided but then must be held in confidence by the health care provider.  Interestingly, the law would allow the information to be shared with other health care providers or laboratories but not to the patients themselves.  This sort of issue has already been criticized in other states.

The flip side of this is a report that was released by the House Natural Gas Subcommittee on Energy and Job Creation which urges greater efforts toward enhanced oil and gas recovery in Michigan as well as a sunset of 2008 PA 295 which imposed the renewable portfolio standard on Michigan utilities.

The Michigan House appears to be of “two minds” when it comes to fracking and resource extraction.  Let’s see if they can go anywhere.



Fracking, damned if you do?

26 Mar 2012

T Boone PickensAn academic fight over emissions from hydraulic fracturing is likely to have implications for all of us. In 2008, T Boone Pickens released his Pickens Plan for an American transition to wind power, using natural gas as a “bridge fuel” and replacement for coal and oil.  While politics has swept this plan from the national stage, we certainly have heard a lot about the move toward enhanced natural gas recovery via hydraulic fracturing.

Recently, two groups of Cornell professors have been feuding over whether fracking results in significantly more methane escaping into the environment than is caused by more traditional gas extraction (see opposing views here and here).  There is little doubt that methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas (GHG) than CO2, but the debate appears unresolved as to whether fracking vents so much more methane into the air that it offsets the GHG savings achieved by switching from coal to natural gas.

The outcome may give fracking opponents yet one more argument to oppose it.

USDA v fracking or v farmers?

22 Mar 2012

Recently, it has been rumored, in the New York Times of all places, that the USDA is considering subjecting farm mortgages to evaluation under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) if those farms have oil or gas wells on them – particularly fracking wells.   Here in Michigan, it is not uncommon for farmers to lease minerals to development companies and is becoming more and more common.

The NEPA’s basic policy is to assure that all branches of government give proper consideration to the environment prior to undertaking any major federal action that could significantly affect the environment.  When people talk about Environmental Impact Statements (EIS’s) – that is a NEPA requirement.  NEPA requirements typically go into effect when airports, buildings, military complexes, highways, parkland purchases and other federal activities with the potential for impacts are proposed.  Environmental Assessments (EA’s) and EIS’s, which are assessments of the likelihood of impacts from alternative courses of action, are required from all federal agencies.  The central element in the environmental review process is a rigorous evaluation of alternatives including the “no action” alternative.

While the cumulative backing of farm loans by the USDA may be significant, threatening to force every farmer in America with a gas well on his/her property to have to go through the EA (or more rigorous EIS) process seems downright anti-farm.  Are they going to do the same for mortgages on wind farms? This seems like something that can best be addressed by regulation of the fracking industry – not stalling farm financing.

Fracking shakes Ohio – Ohio thumps fracking

9 Mar 2012

The State of Ohio today announced new rules relating to fracking – not relating to the chemicals injected into the groundwater as Michigan has required – but requiring significant geological investigation because of a report (here) which concluded that a dozen earthquakes in northeast Ohio in the last year were caused by fracking.

The report concludes that it is possible to properly locate and operate injection wells and not cause earthquakes,  but in this case, there were a number of factors making a “compelling argument” that the recent “seismic events” were related to the fracturing operation including the timing of the quakes, the proximity of them to the well, the cluster pattern around the well and some of the known predisposition of the geology in the area.

In short, the report indicates that before fracturing, there needs to be an analysis of the presence of faults within so-called “basement rock,” the stress state of those faults, the depth and proximity of the well to the fault, the volume of liquid being injected, at what pressure and for how long to evaluate the likelihood of causing tremors.

I believe that fracking will continue but that there will be many more prerequisites to ensure that no harm is done.  I wonder how long before Michigan looks at this.

Fracking Developments around the Midwest

9 Feb 2012

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has been in the news again recently.  Opponents may take some solace from  the recent comments of Ohio’s Republic Attorney General (reported here) that Ohio needs to toughen its laws on fracking, although he certainly isn’t for banning it outright.

The Pennsylvania Legislature also passed legislation (some of which is here) which I have not studied, but which reportedly enacts chemical disclosure requirements similar to Michigan’s while it also preempts local regulation. Pennsylvania’s Governor Corbett (R) is expected to sign the bill.

In short, this is an area that is rapidly evolving and may be very different in a few months than it was a few months ago.