Local lawmakers looking to regulate fracking operations

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published July 12, 2013

 From left, Robert Gordon of the Sierra Club, Wibke Heymach of the Moms Clean Air Force, state Rep. Sarah Roberts, state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Margi Armstrong of Michigan Clean Water Action and state Rep. Jon Switalski stand along Lake St. Clair July 11 to introduce a package of bills to regulate fracking.

From left, Robert Gordon of the Sierra Club, Wibke Heymach of the Moms Clean Air Force, state Rep. Sarah Roberts, state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Margi Armstrong of Michigan Clean Water Action and state Rep. Jon Switalski stand along Lake St. Clair July 11 to introduce a package of bills to regulate fracking.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

ST. CLAIR SHORES — Hoping to protect community health, air and waterways from pollution, three state lawmakers came together July 11 to announce new legislation they hope will put the reigns on companies drilling for natural gas using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Michigan.

“Fracking is a growing practice here in Michigan and we just want to make sure it’s properly regulated,” said state Rep. Sarah Roberts, D-St. Clair Shores.

Fracking is the pressurized injection of water, chemicals and sand into underground rock formations — up to 10,000 feet underground — to allow natural gas and oil to flow more freely to the surface. In Michigan, companies are trying to release the natural gas trapped in the underground rock, but that process uses billions of gallons of water, which are then mixed with more than 900 chemicals to release the gas. That water cannot be recycled or re-used again and has to be disposed of in an old, unused well.

Roberts, along with state representatives Jon Switalski, D-Warren, and Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, introduced eight new bills to regulate fracking and the companies that use the process.

Together, they would require public participation in the permitting process and upfront disclosure of chemicals used in fracking operations before a permit is granted. They would also create a study of fracking’s impact on public health and the environment; hold the company liable for any contaminated water; prohibit the spraying of water used in fracking on local roads; allow local units of government to regulate the operation and location of fracking wells; and require them to be 1,000 feet from homes, schools, hospitals, parks and day-care facilities.

Right now, Roberts said, companies do not have to disclose beforehand the chemicals they use in the process, and some cite “proprietary formulas” to receive an exemption from ever disclosing the chemical ingredients.

She said they are not looking for recipes but just want to know what sort of chemicals are being injected into the ground throughout the state.

Right now, there are 52 permits already in use for drilling with the fracking process in the state, with 17 permits pending. An Alberta, Canada, company, however, wants to drill 500 more wells in the state, she said, and would use 4 billion gallons of water in the process.

Speaking at a press conference held at the VFW Bruce Post 1146 on the banks of Lake St. Clair, Roberts questioned whether this was a good use of the state’s water.

“We need to use our water responsibly,” she said.

Wibke Heymach, a field organizer for the Moms Clean Air Force, said her group is concerned with potential leaks and spills that could occur with the fracking process and the fact that local communities have no say right now in whether fracking is used within their borders.

“We want to create a set of rules that everyone can get behind,” Switalski said. “What are the costs to getting this natural gas so cheap? Is it worth the damage we’re doing now and down the road?”

Getting the public involved in the permitting process, he said, would get all the facts out on the table for communities to be aware of.

“It’s not as though every time they frack a well, there’s contamination,” Roberts said, but added that the industry is changing and the public needs to be aware of what they are dealing with in this process.

“We’re hopeful that this is a non-partisan issue,” Roberts continued, adding that she hopes the bills will be considered when the legislative session resumes.

For more information on House bills 4899-4906, or to sign a petition supporting the proposed legislation, visit protectmiwater.com.