The global debate on the extraction of natural gas through high-pressure hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has again reached Michigan. The state is considering applications from Encana Oil & Gas to drill 13 new fracturing wells in the Lower Peninsula. According to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which grants the state’s fracking permits, the 13 wells would break through to an untapped energy source, but not without environmental and public health risks. While the energy crisis must be addressed, Michigan communities have yet to be adequately informed of or safeguarded against fracking. Michigan should place a moratorium on new natural gas extraction projects until there is a better understanding of the associated risks both by researchers and the public.
Hydraulic fracturing pumps an enormous volume of pressurized water deep into the earth to break up sandstone, limestone and shale — which, until this technology’s development, was beyond reach. The process results in the release of natural gas that’s already being used as one the nation’s biggest and world’s most unprecedented energy sources. The one to 13-million gallons of high-pressure water is usually about 10-percent sand and .5-percent a mix of chemicals, some of which lead to serious health concerns. The negative effects of this mixture is uncontested, and the water must be disposed of — but not all the water is pumped from the ground. On top of the resulting waste, in a technical roundtable discussion of independent experts hosted by the EPA, rural water supplies have been noted to be the first to drain when water is withdrawn for fracking.
Companies are currently not obligated to disclose any of the EPA-estimated 1,000 chemicals they use during fracking. This deters the public’s ability to effectively track such chemicals to assess their impact. Until there is transparency and tracking, public concerns can’t be addressed.
According to its document, “Questions and Answers About Hydraulic Fracturing in Michigan,” the Department of Environmental Quality is vague about its efforts to investigate these questions. It states that it “does not support halting an activity that has been regularly used without serious incident,” which would imply that it would support fracking. The DEQ must acknowledge that the environmental challenges presented by current fracking efforts poses unknown risks as it becomes more prevalent. The idea that the state of Michigan should respond with stricter regulation on fracking only after an accident espouses disregard for all parties directly affected by any potential accidents.
Although the ability to extract natural gas may strengthen our energy security, it would behoove the state to work with local governments and entrepreneurs to develop local energy sources responsibly. Regardless of the economic benefits they provide, current and future wells ultimately prolong an investment in fossil fuels that should instead be directed toward sustainable energy innovation. Environment and public health risks need to be further researched. Ultimately, further innovation is needed to meet the challenges of the 21st century energy crisis.