Dangers of Fracking: Public Asks Tough Questions of Hastings Panel

HASTINGS, Mich. — More than 100 people packed a Barry County Commission on Aging conference room on Monday, July 29.

The public was invited by Rep. Mike Callton, (R) Nashville, to ask a panel of experts tough questions about fracking.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process of drilling for oil and gas by injecting pressurized water and chemicals deep below the surface of the Earth to free up oil and gas locked in the rock.

Bill Mitchell, a representative from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, was on the panel.  The DEQ oversees the permits and operations of fracking operations. James Clift of Michigan Environmental Council was also on the panel; MEC’s concern is the impact the drilling operations have on the environment.

The third member of the panel was Jim Peters, who Northstar Energy, a Michigan oil and gas company that engages in fracking.

One of the people in the audience was longtime Barry County resident, Fred Ost. His interest in fracking started with a phone call. “They asked us if we are interested in leasing our land for exploration,” said Ost.

Having lived in Pennsylvania where fracking is much more common, Ost is familiar with fracking. “They’ve been doing this for a number of years in a number of places, and there has been no detrimental affects,” he said.

Of the 12,000 fracked wells drilled in Michigan since the 1950s, there has never been a report of environmental contamination, according the DEQ.

Despite the industry track record, some would like to know more especially when it comes to the chemicals injected in the water.

“This stuff (chemicals) is in the ground and could potentially get in our water,” said Rep. Carlton, who was in the audience.  “Don’t we have a right to know what is in it?”

“I compare it to like Coca-Cola,” answered Peters.  “It’s proprietary.  We drink that.  They don’t disclose what is in its recipe.”

By law, the gas companies are not required to give away trade secrets, such as what they use in the chemical compounds used in fracking.

Some fracking operations can use up to 20 million gallons of water, but they add 100,000 gallons of their own chemical cocktail blend to help in the drilling process. Once finished, companies are required to inject the waste water into a layer of the earth where all parties involved hope the water will stay forever.

The DEQ says there are 20 to 25 large scale fracking operations underway in northern Michigan right now.

Currently there are no active fracking operations in Barry County, but officials with the DEQ said there is potential for drilling to begin.  According to Barry County Register of Deeds in 2012 in Barry County, some 798 people entered into contracts that allow oil and gas companies to explore on those owners’ land.

So far in 2013, similar leases have been signed by 179 people.

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