The U-M researchers concluded that while considerable natural gas reserves are believed to exist in the State and high-volume hydraulic fracturing has the potential to help access them, possible impacts to the environment and to public health must be addressed. Though modern high-volume hydraulic fracturing is not widely used in Michigan today, a main premise of the U-M study is that the technique could become more widespread due to a desire for job creation, economic growth, energy independence and cleaner fuels.
John Callewaert, project director and director of integrated assessment at U-M's Graham Sustainability Institute, which is overseeing the project said, "There's a lot of interest in high-volume hydraulic fracturing, but there really isn't much activity at the moment in Michigan. That's why now is a good time to do this assessment."
These reports conclude the first phase of a two-year U-M project known formally as the Hydraulic Fracturing in Michigan Integrated Assessment. The seven documents -- which should not be characterized or cited as final products of the integrated assessment -- provide a solid informational foundation for the project's next phase, an analysis of various hydraulic fracturing policy options. That analysis is expected to be completed in mid-2014 and will be shared with government officials, industry experts, other academics, advocacy groups and the general public.
Callewaert said, "Nothing like this has been done before in Michigan. Having this comprehensive, state-specific set of reports will be an invaluable resource that will help guide future decision-making on this issue -- and hopefully will help Michigan avoid some of the pitfalls encountered in other states." Conclusions of the reports, which were written by faculty-led, student-staffed teams from various disciplines, include:
- Technology. In view of the current low price of natural gas, the high cost of drilling deep shale formations and the absence of new oil discoveries, it is unlikely that there will be significant growth of the oil and gas industry in Michigan in the near-term future. However, considerable reserves of natural gas are believed to exist in deep shale formations such as the Utica-Collingwood, which underlies much of Michigan and eastern Lake Huron and extends into Ontario, Canada.
- Geology/hydrogeology. A recent flurry of mineral rights acquisitions in the state associated with exploratory drilling suggests the potential for growth in natural gas production through high-volume hydraulic fracturing, though only a handful of such wells have been drilled to date. "Michigan is thus in a unique position to assess the future of high-volume hydraulic fracturing before the gas boom begins."
- Environment/Ecology. Potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on the environment are significant and include increased erosion and sedimentation, increased risk of aquatic contamination from chemical spills or equipment runoff, habitat fragmentation and resulting impacts on aquatic and terrestrial organisms, loss of stream riparian zones, and reduction of surface waters available to plants and animals due to the lowering of groundwater levels.
- Public health. Possible hazards in the surrounding environment include impaired local and regional air quality, water pollution and degradation of ecosystems. Possible hazards in nearby communities include increased traffic and motor vehicle accidents, stress related to risk perception among residents, and boomtown-associated effects such as a strained health care system and road degradation.
- Policy/Law. The State is the primary source of law and policy governing hydraulic fracturing in Michigan. The operator of a high-volume hydraulically fractured well must disclose the hazardous constituents of chemical additives to the State Department of Environmental Quality for each additive within 60 days of well completion. Unlike most other states, MDEQ does not require operators to report to FracFocus.org, a nationwide chemical disclosure registry.
- Economics. The gas extraction industry creates employment and income for Michigan, but the employment effects are modest compared with other industries and not large enough to "make or break" the state's economy. In the future, the number of technical jobs in the industry will likely increase, while less-skilled laborer positions will decline.
- Public Perceptions. A slight majority of Michigan residents believe the benefits of fracking outweigh the risks, but significant concerns remain about the potential impacts to human health, the environment and groundwater quality. The public tends to view the word "fracking" as the entirety of the natural gas development process, from leasing and permitting, to drilling and well completion, to transporting and storing wastewater and chemicals. Industry and regulatory agencies hold a much narrower definition that is limited to the process of injecting hydraulic fracturing fluids into a well. These differences in perceived meaning can lead to miscommunications that ultimately increase mistrust among stakeholders.
The researchers indicate that chief among the technical advances are directional drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing, which are often used together. In directional drilling, the well operator bores vertically down to the rock formation, then follows the formation horizontally. High-volume frackingthe focus of recent attention and public concernis defined by the state of Michigan as a well that uses more than 100,000 gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluid. For reference, an Olympic-size swimming pool holds about 660,000 gallons of water.
Since the late 1940s, an estimated 12,000 gas and oil wells have been drilled in Michigan using hydraulic fracturing, without any reported contamination issues. Most of those wells have been relatively shallow vertical wells that each used about 50,000 gallons of water. But recently, a small number of deep, directionally drilled, high-volume hydraulically fractured wells have been completed in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula. Those wells sometimes use several million gallons of water, and one Michigan well required more than 20 million gallons.
Since 2010, when the Petoskey Pioneer Well spurred interest in high-volume hydraulically fractured wells in Michigan, 19 such wells are known to have been completed in the State, according to Sara Gosman, a lecturer at the U-M Law School and author of the technical report on policy/law.
The U-M hydraulic fracturing study is expected to cost at least $600,000 and is being funded by U-M through its Graham Sustainability Institute, Energy Institute and Risk Science Center. State regulators, oil and gas industry representatives, staffers from environmental nonprofits, and peer reviewers provided input to the technical reports, and more than 100 public comments were considered.
Public comments are being accepted on the reports until October 7, however, U-M notes that comments will not be used to revise the technical reports. Rather, submitted comments will be used with the technical reports to inform the integrated assessment to be completed during the second phase of the project. Additionally, a free webinar for the general public will be held September 9, noon-12:30 PM ET (registration required).
Access a lengthy release and summary of the reports from U-M (click here). Access links to all technical reports and an overview (click here). Access the U-M Hydraulic Fracturing in Michigan website for complete background including comment form, videos, presentations, etc. (click here). [#MIEnergy/Frack, #Energy/Frack]