Judge Tosses Anti-Fracking Lawsuit
File it under the category of “business as usual.”
This week, a judge dismissed a phony lawsuit by Michigan Land Air Water Defense, a group headed by activist Steve Losher. MLAWD had claimed that leases bid out by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources violated the public trust because DNR did not consider the potential damage to the environment by development.
Of course, the leases in question are considered a “non-developmental lease permits,” so the idea that they would usher in harmful development was asinine from the very beginning. Indeed, lease holders with this type of permit may not begin any activity on that land without an additional permit, which requires an additional application and a separate review.
So why did MLAWD file a lawsuit to stop something that cannot legally take place? Good question. Perhaps MLAWD was unaware that the leases were considered non-developmental. But that’s unlikely, given the fact that their activist lawyer, Jim Olsen, has been involved in the lawsuit from the start.
So maybe they wanted to prevent the first step of development by halting the permitting process at the beginning. But where was the lawsuit against the 119 permits to drill on state land that were granted in the past year?
The more likely reason for the lawsuit is that MLAWD simply wanted to scare people, demonize the industry, make a public spectacle and get some free press now that hydraulic fracturing has become a visible issue.
This is a common tactic used by opponents of shale development. For example, activists make a big deal out of the fact that other states have banned hydraulic fracturing, like Vermont (to be clear, Vermont is the only state to have such a law). That’s not too hard to do in Vermont, though, given the fact that there is no reason to drill in Vermont. No formation holding tremendous amounts of oil and gas means no drilling (though the state does enjoy the economic boost resulting from natural gas).
Sounds about as squirrely as filing a lawsuit to block non-development leases on the basis of what development could do.
As for trying to scare people, MLAWD’s Steve Losher did exactly that ahead of the court hearing. Losher said oil and gas development “will permanently alter the rural and natural character forever.” He added that hydraulic fracturing “is not in fact your grandfather’s drilling,” and that it’s “hundreds of times more impactful” than so-called conventional development.
“There are way too many unanswered questions,” Losher added.
The problem? Combining horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing actually results in much more efficient and less intrusive production. The amount of gas that can be produced from a single horizontal well can be equivalent to what used to require eight, ten, or even a dozen separate vertical wells. Besides, the long history of development in Michigan proves that the industry’s safety record is without question – even in areas that Losher and other opponents would no doubt think could not co-exist with development.
After the judge tossed MLAWD’s lawsuit, the group naturally said it would appeal, thereby generating more free publicity. But the real question is, with activists admitting the “ban fracking” effort is designed solely to capture media attention, even while other anti-fracking groups verbally harass reporters, how long until the public at large just starts ignoring them altogether?