Concern over fracking

ALPENA – More than 100 people attended an informational meeting on horizontal fracturing at Alpena Community College Friday organized by State Rep. Peter Pettalia.

“I’m not doing these meetings to alter your opinion,” he said. “These meetings are informational.”

However, Pettalia said he sits on the Committee for Energy and Technology. He scheduled three separate 2-hour sessions in his district Friday so he could learn more about the issue and public sentiment about it.

The panel of four guests included Jim Peters, operations manager for Northstar Energy; Tom Hoane, a geologist with the Department of Natural Resources Minerals Management Section; Rick Henderson, field operations supervisor for the Department of Environmental Quality, and Grenetta Thomassey of Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, Petoskey.

Although the mood was cooperative, dozens in the audience expressed concerns about the deep drilling technique, which uses water, pressure and chemicals to fracture rock 5,000 to 10,00 feet underground so natural gas can be extracted. Some were concerned the process contaminates and destroys millions of gallons of fresh water, which is one of Michigan’s legacies.

Peters gave a brief overview of Michigan’s oil and gas industry, which started in 1925, when and oil well was drilled in the Saginaw area. Since then 60,000 wells have been drilled throughout the state.

About a dozen deep, horizontally fracked well permits have been approved, and some projects are under way in the Kalkaska area. Two wells are located outside Cheyboygan, he said.

The initial phase of drilling takes four to six weeks, followed by a four- to six-week period during which a horizontal hole deep in the ground is fracked. Then production follows, and a well is in use for 50 years, he said.

“Technology is changing all the time,” Peters said. “We’d love to get away from fresh water in four to five years.”

Peters said oil field service company Haliburton is working on creating a fracking fluid that would be made out of food-grade chemicals, including rust inhibitors, bio-inhibitors and surfactants. Oil and gas engineers also are working with ways to recycle the water from the fracking fluid instead disposing it deep within the earth.

Thomassey said she has been working on water use policy with the industry to protect Michigan watersheds, lakes and streams. She also is examining the regulatory environment.

In the past, the oil and gas industry enjoyed a priviledge status, because energy was necessary for progress and independence, she said. However, public participation in permitting decisions is limited, or after the fact. The process, instead, is handled by permitting and regulatory agencies in Michigan.

Another issue is that the chemicals contained in the fracking fluid are a potential hazard because they are kept secret, she and others said. In the competitive oil and gas environment, a handful of companies are competing against each other to get the most gas out of the ground.

Thomassey said the list of chemicals used at a fracked well usually are released to the public after 30 days, but said the information should be made available sooner, in the event of an emergency.

“If we don’t know what to test for, determining the chemicals in the fracking fluid is a tall order,” she said.

Others in the audience worried that that fracking could hurt property values, damage roads and impinge on quality of life in Northeast Michigan.

Henderson, who is with the DEQ, said his department monitors drilling and fracturing, and enforces state regulations.

Last year, 200 permits were applied for, and the state reviews the applications over a 50-day period, he said. The field staff does onsite environmental reviews, looking for houses, threatened or endangered species. They check that the information on the company application is correct and make sure the casing and other engineering is appropriate.

“I really doubt you will see any of these deep wells on this side of the state,” Peters said.

Henderson said the state has been taking samples and testing for radium for several decades.

“We’ve worked for several universities and we have taken a look at that and the radiation that is in the brine that’s one of the reasons it goes down the disposal well,” Henderson said. “We know the brines in southern Michigan contain radioactive materials.”

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.