Since hydraulic fracturing — a complex procedure to extract natural gas from underground shale — began in Michigan about 50 years ago, approximately 12,000 wells have been fractured in the state. Given the significant environmental health concerns, and unanswered questions associated with the process, often called fracking, and because the Great Lakes contain about 21 percent of the world’s fresh water resources, several campaigns in recent months have demanded a ban on fracking in the state. Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality released a proposal Oct. 22 for updated fracking regulations for greater transparency. This added oversight is a firm step toward holding companies more accountable for their actions and potential damage. However, the DEQ should not lose focus on finding alternative energy sources as these regulations go into effect next year.
The proposed regulations begin to bring clarity to an industry clouded by trade secrets. Better monitoring of water withdrawal, water quality sampling, chemical additive disclosure on an Internet-based platform and more frequent reporting by operators would be required if the regulations are instituted. While these requirements don’t prohibit the pollution causes, they provide a greater understanding of fracking’s effect on the environment.
Michigan should also be taking into account the debates and attempted regulations that have occurred elsewhere in the United States. In Ohio, where more than 80,000 oil and gas wells have been fractured since 1951, the state Senate passed regulations on oil and gas drilling in May 2012, including hydraulic fracturing. Although both Niles and Youngstown city councils in Ohio ultimately turned down the proposed ban on fracking within city limits, the local administrations appear to be more concerned and involved in the decision-making than in Michigan. In Pennsylvania, the Marcellus Shale Law, which was scheduled to take effect in April 2012, was supposed to change the zoning laws applicable to Marcellus Shale well drilling. However, it has been delayed due to a growing group of municipalities and organizations asking for a more regulation powers in their localities.
Giving local authorities more control over fracking protocols in Michigan would allow for greater public representation in the decision-making process and make a larger portion of the local population aware of the potential effects of fracking. Additionally, Wyoming voted in 2010 to require full disclosure of fluids used in natural gas exploration through fracking. The proposed forms of disclosure in Michigan have not been elucidated yet, but public disclosure of information should be required in order to further engage its citizens and increase transparency in the fracking process.
While the efforts to guarantee responsible fracking are laudable, it has shifted focus from advancements being made in other forms of energy harvesting. The Michigan Public Service Commission and the Michigan Energy Office have reported that the state should be capable of tripling their renewable energy use by 2035, with utilities required to get 30 percent of energy from renewable resources. Currently, the state hopes to achieve 10 percent by 2015. Specifically, advancements have been remarkable in wind technology, with the first wind farm — built in Mason County last year — generating 103 megawatts of electricity since opening. More farms are planned for the future, and the state should begin shifting its attention toward alternative energy.
While fracking has made for an excellent short-term investment, the enormous developments in renewable energy technologies signal that alternative energy is a more sustainable investment for Michigan.