I would like to thank you all for giving me the opportunity to comment on a very important issue of proposed gas and oil drilling being entertained not only in Michigan but in Oakland County. I would like to comment on the methods used to extract it and environmental risks that it poses
I have been drilling and repairing wells in Michigan for 30 years, I’ve been a registered well driller in the state of Michigan for over 20 years, I am also a director of the Michigan Ground Water Association. I am a certified member of the National Ground Water Association and a member of the water systems Council. I consider myself very knowledgeable on water well drilling, geology of Michigan, groundwater movement, groundwater contamination and the migration of contamination through Michigan’s unconfined aquifers
I would like to start out by saying that White Lake Township, Waterford Township, and many other townships within this county and our state financially survive on the sales of municipal well water or groundwater to their citizens
I would like to believe that our public officials have begun to gain some knowledge on this – at the very least controversial gas and oil extraction technique that threatens this groundwater supply. But from what I have been seeing, hearing, and reading, Michigan and Oakland County have irresponsibly endeavored in the gas and oil exploration of Michigan by not fully understanding the process of slick water horizontal hydraulic fracturing, the extraction process and the uniquely delicate geological makeup of Michigan.
I would like to clear up some misleading or what I like to call half-truths on slick water horizontal hydraulic fracturing.
- First half-truth: Our DEQ our regulators our politicians and the media keep saying-as printed in the Spinal Column on August 29, 2012 (officials say fracking, a method of extracting natural gas from the ground, has been going on in Michigan for over 50 years). Half-true, yes fracking is a method developed over 50 years ago, and used in many vertical drilled wells in Michigan through fracking in shallow wells in the Antrim shale. Typically, these wells are drilled to a depth of 1000 to 2000 feet and use a relatively small amount of water and were drilled with some degree of success, mainly due to federal EPA regulations and state law protection that required the gas and oil drilling companies to follow the same rules as all other citizens with respect to our Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Superfund Act and the absolute disclosure of all chemicals being injected underground.
But what they’re not mentioning is the massive slick water horizontal hydraulic fracturing operations now being used in many states (and most recently proposed in Michigan) to extract deep gas reserves, are significantly different and extremely more invasive. It’s not the same. Today’s method of drilling and extracting uses billions and billions of gallons of our potable fresh water that is rapidly removed from our aquifers and the earth hydraulic cycle forever, it is chemically altered to be what I call slick water or frictionless, with a cocktail of chemicals and thousands of gallons of diesel fuel added, that will assure this fluid can never be H2O again and to also assure to contaminate any water it comes in contact with.
- Which brings me to the next half-truth printed in August 29, 2012 Oakland press newspaper (no plans to use fracking to extract oil, gas from County Northern Michigan company does not plan to use water intensive fracking if… if exploratory drilling is successful). But what they’re not telling you is their intent is for natural gas and natural gas exists in a extremely tight shale play that proves non-beneficial to drilling and extracting the conventional way. And that’s one reason why all leases will state, “gas and oil exploration” not just gas exploration. Once the lease is signed oil and gas companies can go about their unregulated business, the second half of this truth is when the northern Michigan company says they have no plans on fracturing during the drilling process, they’re not lying. They are telling the truth. They are drilling, setting, and cementing the casing. Then they tear the rig down and move on.
The next step is the extraction crew, a LLC spinoff company – sometimes of the same drilling company. The extraction crew is something no one hears about. This is the crew that does the actual slick water horizontal hydraulic fracturing to extract the natural gas.
The extraction process that takes place after the perforation by the extraction crews is where the contamination and environmental damage comes in. This is where the undisclosed chemicals are used. This is where large volumes of fresh water are used. This is where fracturing and intersecting with natural earth fractures happen along with the storage and transportation of chemicals that are used.
Today’s gas and oil hydraulic fracturing can use up to 100 times more freshwater than the historic wells. According to the DEQ, the average horizontal well uses 5.5 million gallons of fresh water each time a well is fracked, and it will never be returned to our usable water cycle again. This means that when the gas and oil drilling companies say they retrieve 60% to 70% of the extremely contaminated and sometimes radioactive water used, commonly known as waste water or produced water, it is then stored, trucked and then pumped back into the ground through Michigan’s deep injection wells, at a different level to wreak more havoc. This guarantees that 100% of that contaminated fluid stays in our delicate ever-changing Earth forever. Conventional and unconventional gas wells need to be re-fracked with additional high-pressure chemical water injections to maintain their productivity. The risk of contamination, large water withdrawals, or accidents is long-term, for many shale gas wells. This can happen every few years – for decades.
An example of this is a 10,000 foot well drilled into the Utica/Collingwood shale near Lake City in Missaukee County. This well is what triggered the frenzy to buy land and lease for mineral rights. When this well was recently drilled it produced 2.5 million cubic feet of gas per day. It has since dropped to 800,000 cubic feet per day.
Michigan’s unique geological makeup does not support chemical injection or the use of slick water horizontal hydraulic fracturing. Normally consider confining layers, Michigan has uniquely fractured shale’s sandstones and limestone’s that are fractured and depressed like a bowl shape from glaciers millions of years ago. Michigan’s geological makeup cannot contain the millions and millions of gallons of injected chemicals and sometimes radioactive waste water without eventually migrating to the surface our Great Lakes and underground water supplies. Also, with two major fault lines running through Michigan, we run the risk of any small earthquake (as has been experienced in Ohio) becoming catastrophic in Michigan. This would create conduits that would release the gases and speed the migrating of chemicals to our surface and ground waters. In Arkansas this type of disposal has resulted in over 800 earthquakes beginning September 2010 – and lasting until January 2011 when the use of the injection wells was temporarily banned.
Slick water horizontal hydraulic fracturing technology became possible and a profitable method of extracting this shale methane as a result of industry exemptions from environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Superfund act. It was given a huge boost when former Vice President Dick Cheney (also CEO of Halliburton Corporation) introduced an amendment to the 2005 energy bill. Called the “Halliburton loophole”, it stripped the EPA’s authority to regulate hydro-fracturing through the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Superfund Act, and any other liability and damage cleanup responsibilities. Companies are also not required to disclose the contents of chemicals used in the fracking process. They are essentially giving free reign to drill where and how they choose.
As a result of that, every state that has allowed this kind of slick water horizontal hydraulic fracturing to begin has suffered water loss, water contamination, air quality problems, and surface water contamination. States such as Colorado, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, New York, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Ohio are just some of the many states that have had documented issues. Yes, documented issues.
- This brings me to another half-truth. Oil and gas drilling companies like to say that there have been no documented issues of groundwater contamination or environmental damage from act of fracking. Half true. While the actual act of fracturing is the process of perforating the casing (the surrounding cement and into the gas bearing shale) does not cause the actual contamination of groundwater or environmental damage, the drawback to this process is the uncontrollable intersection with natural fractures, fault lines and crevasses within the earth and the uncontrollable distance for which they travel, sometimes as far as football fields.
Some of the documented issues of severe environmental damage, drinking water contamination, and human health problems linked to fracturing are too numerous to list. Many times when contamination has occurred, gas and oil companies have to settle with leasers. Typically, they are forced into signing nondisclosure agreements so they can’t talk about any contamination or accidents. So there could be thousands of cases of contamination that we don’t know about. For example, the people in Domick, Pennsylvania are about to settle with Cabot Oil and will likely be forced into signing nondisclosure agreements that will prevent them from ever talking about what happened there again.
Wyoming, Colorado, West Virginia, Texas, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Ohio and New York have all seen case of poison aquifers and rivers resulting in fish and wildlife die-offs, and clusters of unusual health problems such as chronic dizziness, headaches, neurological problems and rare tumors. Bad tasting, polluted drinking water has actually catches on fire when lit with a match has made the news in several different states.
- Which brings me to another half-truth or misconception as also stated in a August 29, 2012 Spinal Column, which was a quote from Hal Fitch, Chief of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Office of Oil Gas and Minerals saying (while those who live closer to a gas well are more likely to have their water contaminated with gas….. Such contamination doesn’t come directly from fracking –(remember the extraction crews) — Sometimes methane can seep naturally from a shale formation into the groundwater supply – a natural occurrence which has been happening for millennia according to Fitch.
What I would like to point out is that if gas can migrate naturally up from shale formations thousands of feet in this earth, then why can’t chemicals pumped into the same gas bearing shale be able to migrate the same way to our groundwater supply. I don’t think it takes a geologist to understand that. And once the groundwater supply is contaminated, that’s it. It can never be used or decontaminated.
Just to list a few of the documented atrocities experienced in other states:
- Colorado – 206 chemicals spills were linked to 248 cases of water contamination in 2008 alone.
- New Mexico – Toxic fluids seep into water supplies at over 800 drilling sites in 2008.
- Wyoming – has numerous reports of high ozone levels from fracking leading to respiratory problems.
- Dish, Texas – A resident-funded health survey revealed dangerously high levels of benzene, Toluene and xylene in the air.
- Clearville, Pennsylvania – Livestock drop dead after suffering motor skill breakdowns, likely resulting from high arsenic levels in the soil due to flow back fluid leaks.
- Avella, Pennsylvania – Their flow back waste water impoundment exploded producing 200 foot flames and burning for six hours.
- Domick, Pennsylvania – On New Year’s Day 2009, a well exploded from leaked gases due to improper cementing of the well casing (according to the PA Department of Environmental Protection). A similar explosion which occurred in Ohio blew a house off its foundations and left a neighborhood with no drinkable water.
- Domick, Pennsylvania – in September 2009, 8000 gallons of fracking fluid leaked from a faulty supply pipe into wetlands, poisoning streams and killing fish. Drinking water turned brown and corrosive and would ignite when a match was held to it as it came out the tap. People reported dizziness, headaches and skin sores from showering. In October 2009 the DEP shut down water Wells in the area due to major contamination of the aquifer.
- Clearfield County, Pennsylvania – June 2010, a gas well blowout releasing over 1,000,000 gallons of gas and drilling fluid before being contained nearly 16 hours later.
The list goes on and on….
While I was attending the Midwestern groundwater issue conference March of this year in Ohio, one of the key pieces of information that had been stressed at the groundwater issue conference that has me very concerned, and is why I say that Oakland County has irresponsibly endeavored, was the need and the importance of baseline testing before, I say, before gas and oil exploration begin.
NGWA recommends and has compiled a list of constituents to test for in areas of oil or gas development. It includes the major ions in groundwater, which consists of calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, alkalinity (bicarbonate and carbonate), sulfate, and chloride. These usually make up more than 90% of all dissolved constituents in groundwater, and are used to define a water type – similar to labeling blood types. Analyzing this suite of ions, before and after drilling, allows for quantitative changes in water quality to be determined. This has yet to be done in Oakland County while state and private lands have already been leased and drilling has begun.
Another important piece of information that I received over and over is that regulations have been left to the individual townships, counties and states. However, while the number of new well permits rise exponentially, state budget cuts have made timely inspection of wells almost impossible. For instance, in 2008 Ohio had 24 inspectors to cover 64,000 wells. Pennsylvania had 35 inspectors for 74,000 wells. And just because our state has leased our state properties and sold our mineral rights, we as a county and we as a state do not have to let this type of irresponsible unregulated drilling move forward. The EPA is currently re-evaluating the effects of fracking on the environment. However the study will not be completed until late 2013.
We depend on our elected politicians and our hired representatives – the DEQ, DNR, and our Water Resource Commission – to protect our citizens, environment, and the better interest of the people. I believe it’s time to hold our voted officials responsible for their short-term decisions on long-term issues that will affect our communities, public health, environment, and freshwater supplies for many years from now. I should also say that our citizens need to be more proactive to force the hand of our public officials and let them know that Michigan’s environmental laws are not for sale. Many municipalities around the state and country have already banned fracking to protect their citizens from the consequences suffered from this type of drilling. They have put their citizens, their environment, and freshwater supplies in front of the Almighty dollar and have banned this type of slick water horizontal hydraulic fracturing in their communities. I believe that rushing into this type of drilling procedure that has proven atrocities, and possibilities of contamination on a grand scale, is irresponsible the oil rich shale’s beneath Michigan have been there for millions of years and is not going anywhere soon. So let’s err on the side of caution. Let’s take time to develop ways to extract the gas and oil in a less invasive and a more responsible manner and it will then prove beneficial.
I would also remind us all that Vermont is the first state to ban fracking, the storage of the chemicals used, and the disposal of millions of gallons of wastewater into injection wells within their borders. My question to our regulators is what does Vermont know that Michigan does not know? What does Vermont have that Michigan does not have? Maybe they realize that they have a limited groundwater supply.
Michigan has the longest freshwater coastline of any political subdivision in the world. Being bound by four of the five Great Lakes plus Lake St. Clair and has over 64,000 inland lakes and ponds were a person in this state is never more than 6 miles from a natural water source or more than 85 miles from a Great Lakes shoreline. Michigan also holds 20% of the world available fresh surface water.
Our underground water veins are made up of 95% unconfined aquifers. Which means our underground aquifers, surface waters, and Great Lakes are connected. This means that water contamination in Genesee County will affect water quality in Oakland County. Water contamination in northern Michigan will affects water quality in southern Michigan. Eventually water contamination in Lake Michigan would contaminate Lake Huron which would also contaminate Lake Superior and so on. I would hope that our Michigan leaders and our community leaders would act responsible, and protect our groundwater our environment & our community’s from the atrocities experienced in other cities towns and states.
If Michigan wants to remain a vacation destination, remain “Pure Michigan”, and enjoy revenue from this for many years to come, our citizens are going to have to band together and demand that our representatives support not only a county ban on slick water horizontal hydraulic fracturing, but a statewide ban.
On a lighter note I would like to share you with a poem that was published in the Michigan Groundwater Association convention book 45 years ago, from one water well driller to another. I find this poem ironic that I, as a water well driller who has provided safe drinking water for this community for many years, am now standing here tonight convincing you of the value of it.
“More Valuable Than Oil”
Did you ever stop to ponder, when sitting all alone?
When there’s no one at the office door, or calling on the phone.
Why is it that the Getty’s or the Ewing’s of TV;
Have fancy cars homes and land, so strange to you and me?
It’s because they drill for black gold, that slippery greasy crude;
That makes them rich and famous, and sometimes slightly rude.
But when you think of all of this, and your blood begins to boil;
Just remember someday water will be more valuable than oil.
Yes, most would say it’s oil and gas, that makes this country go;
But if they’d stop to think a bit, they’d know it’s just not so.
Let ‘em use it once to wash their face, or take a healthy drink;
Or run it in their bathtub, or better yet the kitchen sink.
See it’s really water that we need, to keep us going strong;
For without this priceless resource, we could not get along;
So the next time you spud some casing in, or rotor in the soil;
Just remember someday water will be more valuable than oil.
It may not be tomorrow, but the groundwork is clearly laid;
For all to know the value of our important trade.
So if you get discouraged over long, hard hours that you toil;
Just remember someday clean, clear water, will be more valuable than oil.
And, ladies and gentlemen, that “someday” is today no matter what monetary value you put on it… TODAY… Your water is more valuable than oil.