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March 5, 2013

Metro Detroiters pack WB town hall to discuss fracking

By Eric Czarnik
C & G Staff Writer

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From left, Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash, West Bloomfield Township Supervisor Michele Economou Ureste, Hal Fitch from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Joe Curry from the Michigan Ground Water Association preside over a town hall meeting about hydraulic fracturing in West Bloomfield Feb. 27.

WEST BLOOMFIELD — Whether they attacked it or backed it, metro Detroiters interested in the issue of fracking packed a town hall meeting in West Bloomfield Feb. 27.

The meeting, held in West Bloomfield Town Hall, let local residents and activists ask questions and share their views on drilling for oil or natural gas in Michigan using a technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

According to experts, the method extracts natural resources by drilling and injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals deep underground. Recent drilling innovations let drillers burrow horizontally for long distances, as well as vertically — but some opponents say this is dangerous and pollutes groundwater.

Some proponents of fracking say the practice can help the United States become energy- independent and create jobs.

Among the panelists of the town hall meeting were Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash and West Bloomfield Township Supervisor Michele Economou Ureste.

Ureste said she attended a Department of Natural Resources’ mineral rights auction last May and watched an energy company buy the mineral rights to West Bloomfield property. The experience spurred her to advocate for a moratorium on drilling in West Bloomfield, and the township board extended that moratorium in February.

“The residents who attended the auction were concerned about the quality of our drinking water and lake water after having conducted enough of their own research to know fracking requires a lot of water,” she said. “And contamination is a result of the process.”

Another panelist, Hal Fitch from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, said the DEQ regulates drilling operations from start to finish.

He added that the state has never had one incident of groundwater contamination due specifically to hydraulic fracturing, and he said the procedure has “got a pretty safe history.”

“There’s always some potential for accidents, but as long as you have good management, you keep those things to a minimum,” he said.

One of the panelists, Joe Curry from the Michigan Ground Water Association, emphatically disagreed and said that horizontal drilling is riskier and more invasive than the vertical drilling that Michigan has experienced for decades.

He was specifically concerned about the massive volume of water that hydraulic fracturing requires. He said the chemicals added to the water during the process make the liquid unsuitable for human consumption afterward.

“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,” Curry said.

During the meeting, many of the public speakers were opposed to fracking. Some questioned whether the Michigan DEQ’s staffers on the ground — Fitch estimated the total at 30 — could sufficiently regulate and keep tabs on the state’s thousands of oil and gas wells.

During the meeting, West Bloomfield Development Services Director Marshall Labadie said state law stops the township from banning drilling altogether. Nevertheless, the township is pursuing avenues that could give it some control over the process, he said.

For instance, West Bloomfield could require drillers to comply with the noise ordinance and could require a permit to extract large quantities of water, Labadie said.

“We’re going to do everything we can,” he added.

Learn more about West Bloomfield at www.wbtwp.com or at (248) 451-4800.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Eric Czarnik at eczarnik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1058.