Fracking Regulation Bills in the Works for Michigan

My son and I watched the recently released Josh Fox movie Gasland 2 yesterday morning, so the dangers of fracking and injection wells weighed heavily on our minds all day.

Coincidentally, three Michigan House Democrats announced a package of bills on Thursday morning to regulate fracking in Michigan. The movie repeated over and over the fact that this type of regulation is primarily a responsibility of states and their municipalities, with the EPA standing back — and often working with the oil and gas industry instead, under President Obama’s policy of full exploration.

gas wellsLast week we learned that some Michigan craft brewers were stepping-up on an anti-fracking message concerned about preserving clean water in the Great Lakes, so there seems to be some small momentum…but, we’re not holding our breath. The DEQ claims that 12,000 wells have been fracked in the state over the past fifty years without any adverse environmental concerns, but with this new natural gas push, that rate is going to escalate dramatically, and the amount of water used alone will have an impact on the aquifer. Much of it will be lost forever, and that which is extracted will be so heavily contaminated it will no longer be water at all, as we know it. 

In light of the danger facing Michigan, a state sitting atop vast natural gas reserves, Democratic House Reps Vicki Barnett (D-37), Jim Townsend (D-26), and Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-27) held a press conference to announce their upcoming legislation. From the press release we learn some of the particulars of their plan — it would:

  • Require the disclosure of the chemicals used in the fracking process and report the water used when it exceeds more than 100,000 gallons.
  • Give municipalities and individuals the opportunity to request a public hearing before a fracking permit is issued, letting people have a say in the process.
  • Allow local units of government to control fracking operations in their communities.
  • Create a public-private advisory committee to study the effects of fracking and make recommendations.
  • Increase the setback distance of fracking operation from residential areas and apply it to schools, hospitals, daycare centers and public parks.

On the last point about setbacks, considering that agriculture is the second largest industry in Michigan, farmland should have been included. Especially since many of these wells are located on active cropland.

The chemicals used are typically highly toxic and the gas industry has traditionally made proprietary claims in blocking their disclosure on their Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). Additionally, fracking is exempt from the federal Clean Water Act. If these bills make it to the House floor for consideration, we can expect lawmakers to be heavily lobbied. As the 2014 election cycle approaches, Michigan Republicans will also benefit from huge sums in campaign contributions designed to kill these proposals.

Michigan lawmakers are not currently in session, so action on these bills is at least a couple of months away. Their likely future is one of eventually withering in committee.

Amy Kerr Hardin

Note: We see on a regular basis, during summer recess of Michigan lawmakers, that various media outlets conflate the announcement of legislation with the actual introduction of the bills. This is why Democracy Tree never refers to them as “introduced” during this period. Lawmakers go home to their districts to hawk those bits of legislation they plan to introduce after vacation, yet local media too often pick it up as a real-time-on-the-floor item. A minor distinction, but well worth noting.

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