Michigan Oil & Gas Industry Is Not Exempt from Water Withdrawal Laws

The assertion that the water used in hydraulic fracturing will deplete local aquifers and other sources of drinking water has been repeatedly shown to be inaccurate. In fact, a recent article discussed the potential effects of water withdrawal used in hydraulic fracturing on the water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron.  After some basic math (what a concept!), it was determined that the water used in hydraulic fracturing “can in no way affect the lake levels of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.”

However, certain groups, such as the Sierra Club, continue to claim that the oil and gas industry is somehow ‘exempt’ from Michigan’s water withdrawal laws and that such an exemption endangers the State’s water supply. As the Sierra Club puts it:

“Michigan’s water withdrawal law currently exempts oil and gas drillers from complying with rules designed to protect waterways and groundwater sources from depletion.”

This assertion is just not true, and it goes to show the lengths that some will go to confuse the public.  Just take a look at what the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has to say about hydraulic fracturing, specifically about the applicability of Michigan’s water withdrawal laws on the oil and gas industry:

Oil and gas companies are subject to the same requirements as other users of large volumes of water—they must first evaluate the potential effects of the withdrawal using a computer program Michigan regulators designed to track and measure water use and protect local aquifers. If it appears that proposed local uses put dangerous stress on local water supplies, the proposed withdrawal request is denied.”

In fact, the water withdrawal regulations apply to all users: whether to the oil and gas industry’s use or the much larger volumes of water used in industries such as agriculture and thermoelectric power generation.

In Michigan, if it is anticipated that a water withdrawal will exceed 100,000 gallons per day, one must apply for a permit with the DEQ and use the Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool.  This tool is used to estimate the potential effect that large amounts of water withdrawal will have on nearby water levels. If the assessment indicates that there will be an adverse resource impact, the withdrawal is not permitted, as DEQ has confirmed.

While some claim that the tool is not sufficient to accurately predict the potential impacts of water withdrawal on local water supplies, it is worth noting that the tool took years to develop.  In fact, the Michigan Legislature did not proceed with any water withdrawal laws until after the Groundwater Conservation Advisory Council (GWCAC) developed a process to assess certain water withdrawals.  This process was completed after reviewing scientific data and input from all stakeholders.  The amount of analysis that went into the State’s program is conveniently left out of most discussion regarding its use, especially by those who want you to think up is down, left is right, and that hydraulic fracturing is less than adequately regulated.

While many groups would like the public to believe the oil and gas industry is exempt from water withdrawal requirements or that the amount of water used in hydraulic fracturing will soon deplete the State of its most precious resource, those assertions are simply not based in fact.


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