Recently, a group called “Ban Michigan Fracking” put out a year-end review of anti-fracking activism across the state in 2013. Unfortunately for this group of ideologues, the review is full of misinformation and half-truths to advance an agenda that is not supported by the people of Michigan, which is probably why the list is slim on any real accomplishments. While the review is filled with inaccuracies, there are a few worth addressing to set the record straight.
Ban Michigan Fracking: “…the DEQ which is thought to ‘protect the environment’ is actually expected to foster and favor the gas and oil industry” (BMF Review)
FACT: Ban Michigan Fracking either doesn’t fully understand the role of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), or their members just disagree with DEQ and prefer to hurl insults at the agency. Regardless, what this group and others like it fail to acknowledge is that the mission statement of DEQ:
“…promote wise management of Michigan’s air, land, and water resources to support a sustainable environment, healthy communities, and vibrant economy.”
Promoting “wise management,” while also supporting a “sustainable environment,” is a goal that most residents of Michigan would share. Encouraging economic growth while also taking care to protect the environment is something we all support. This is also what regulators, by definition, are supposed to do. In fact, let’s look at part of the U.S. EPA’s mission statement:
“[E]nvironmental protection is an integral consideration in U.S. policies concerning natural resources, human health, economic growth, energy, transportation, agriculture, industry, and international trade, and these factors are similarly considered in establishing environmental policy.”
Economic growth is a factor in establishing environmental policy. To most, this just makes intuitive sense. To Ban Michigan Fracking, it’s apparently some sort of conspiracy.
Ban Michigan Fracking: DEQ is “repeating the bogus mantra that fracking has been going on in Michigan for 60 years and that 12,000 wells have been drilled and fracked. This statement misleadingly refers only to the vertical, conventional wells … not the new horizontal wells …” (BMF Review)
FACT: What the review fails to mention is that DEQ has repeatedly explained the difference between “horizontal” and “vertical” wells, and that the hydraulic fracturing process itself is the same as described on its website:
“In past years, most natural gas exploration in Michigan targeted reserves ranging up to 2,000 feet below the surface. Energy companies more recently have started to target deposits that are 5,000 or more feet underground.
“The process for fracturing the wells remains the same. What is different is the amount of oil or gas recovered, the amount of water required for hydraulic fracturing, and the increasing use of horizontal drilling.
“One typical deep horizontal well can replace 10 to 20 vertical wells, reducing the footprint on the landscape. These deposits are even further from the surface, which further reduces any potential threat to aquifers. However, deep horizontal wells use more water than a shallow, vertical well operation.” (emphasis added).
You’d think a group that presumably cares about the environment would at least acknowledge that technological enhancements have been “reducing the footprint on the landscape,” but it appears they’d rather just oppose that too.
Ban Michigan Fracking: A member of the Michigan Groundwater Association “debunked the DEQ’s continuing erroneous narrative … that fracking’s been going on in Michigan for 60 years and that there have been 12,000 wells and no cases of contaminations in Michigan.” (BMF Review)
FACT: Nothing was “debunked.” The review first cites a member of the Michigan Groundwater Association and an article addressing groundwater contamination. First off, the article actually only suggests that there is no way to prove groundwater contamination without baseline testing. This point does not establish that groundwater has been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing; rather, only that it is difficult to disprove the claim. To help prevent this very issue, DEQ’s 2013 proposed regulations will require baseline testing before a permit to drill is issued.
The article then cites a Duke University study that has been discredited multiple times. However, even the Duke study does not claim that hydraulic fracturing caused groundwater contamination; in fact, it says precisely the opposite:
“We found no evidence for contamination of drinking-water samples with deep saline brines or fracturing fluids.” (Duke Study, p.1)
Ban Michigan Fracking: “Dr. Christopher Grobbel also spoke to groups around the state, sharing his specialized knowledge of the actual contamination record of Michigan’s oil and gas industry. Grobbel once worked for the DEQ compiling its list of contaminated sites.” (BMF Review)
FACT: Christopher Grobbel is also a listed endorser of their ballot initiative, and the group suggests his presentation proves hydraulic fracturing has caused groundwater contamination. Unfortunately, Dr. Grobbel’s presentation makes no such claim. In fact, he specifically references DEQ’s claim to the contrary and gives no rebuttal to it.
It is worth noting that Michigan’s DEQ is not the only state regulatory body that has publicly stated that there is no substantiated case of hydraulic fracturing contaminating groundwater, as seen here. Given Ban Michigan Fracking’s issues with the DEQ and presumably with state regulatory bodies throughout the country, it is worth noting that the Obama Administration has also agreed with the assessment of state regulators, as seen here. What becomes abundantly clear is that no reputable source has claimed that hydraulic fracturing has caused groundwater contamination.
Ban Michigan Fracking: “People are also shocked to discover, when it ever is revealed at a public meeting at all, that the Department of Environmental Quality Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals also receives a 6.6% severance tax on oil and a 5% severance tax on gas produced in the state—in effect in business partnership with the oil and gas industry. It is the only part of the state’s environmental protection agency that is funded by the industry it regulates.” (BMF Review)
FACT: What the review fails to indicate is that, per state statute, two percent of the revenue collected from the state’s severance tax goes to the orphan well fund, which is used to remediate abandoned wells, and the rest of the revenue goes to the General Fund of the state. The General Fund is what pays for the vast majority of the state’s operating expenses. Therefore, to imply that the severance tax is somehow uniquely tied to the operation of the Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals is more than a bit misleading.
Furthermore, Michigan is hardly unique in using a severance tax. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than 36 states have a severance tax, and in more than 30 of those states, the tax is specifically focused on the extraction of oil and gas.
Besides, would Ban Michigan Fracking rather other taxpayers pay for the cost of industry regulation? Taken to its logical conclusion, is Ban Michigan Fracking asking for residents of Michigan to fork over more of their hard earned dollars to “fix” a system that isn’t broken?
BMF: “In May the DNR held one of its two annual auctions of state-owned oil and gas lease rights, leasing out 37,000+ acres in 17 Michigan counties. Activists attended in protest. While none were arrested, some were escorted out of the auction by conservation officers while the officers were asked ‘What are you conserving?’” (BMF Review)
FACT: Apparently we’re supposed to think that the DNR holding auctions for the rights to lease state-owned land is not the proper role of the DNR. What apparently is so hard for BMF to comprehend is that the DNR has multiple goals, one of which is to “enable strong natural resource-based economies.” Over the past 10 years, the development of oil and natural gas has brought in over $750 million in state revenue, much of it going to the Natural Resource Trust Fund and corresponding State Parks Endowment Fund discussed in further detail here. As such, it’s difficult to understand how groups so adamant about the protection of parks, rivers, and lakes could be so opposed to funding that helps protect and enhance these very places.
One thing that is clear is that this radical group does not share the same mainstream views as the vast majority of the citizens of this state. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have to rely continuously on phony talking points and bogus data. In the end, we succeed as a community when we all work together – a goal that is fundamentally incompatible with ideological activism designed only to deny jobs to hardworking families by opposing American energy production.