89.1 WEMU

Issues of the Environment: The Effort To Put Fracking To A Public Vote

Jun 29, 2016

Hydraulic Fracturing Site
Credit Wikipedia Media Commons / wikipedia.org

Fracking, to say the least, is a controversial method of energy resource extraction.  Those who implement the practice contend it's more efficient, effective, and is not an environmental hazard.  There are many who disagree, particularly when it comes to environmental impact.  In this week’s, “Issues of the Environment,” WEMU’s David Fair discusses fracking and the effort to put it to a vote of the people with LuAnne Kozma, the ‎campaign director at The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan​. 


Overview

   *   The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan (CBFM) is a non-partisan, grassroots and citizen-led group that is collecting signatures in order to qualify for a ballot initiative in 2018 (previously 2016, but they came up short), with the aim of allowing the people of Michigan a chance to block horizontal fracking and ban fracking waste.

*   Michigan law allows 180 days to meet the 8% of voters (252,523 signatures in 2016) threshold for a ballot proposal, but through a “rebuttal process” that time period isn't set in stone; until recently, there is a laborious procedure where groups can prove a signature older than 180 days is from a registered voter and is still valid.

   *   In response to the passage in May of Senate Bill 776, which effectively eliminated the rebuttal possibility and limits signatures to those collected in a 180-day window (now, older signatures can never count toward the total), the CBFM has filed a lawsuit.  The suit declares the 180-day statute to be unconstitutional and unenforceable under Article 2, Section 9 of the Michigan Constitution, which grants citizens. groups the right to gather a petition for statutory initiatives that the legislature refuses to take up.

   *   The CBMF also argues that the 180-day window is currently being misapplied to statutory initiatives like theirs, however they seem to concur that for constitutional amendments, which have a precedent of such time limits, the 180-day limits may be validly applied.

   *   The CBMF, led by campaign director LuAnne Kozma, sees fracking as deleterious to the natural environment, with a variety of negative health and economic impacts.  A good deal of support for their effort has come from our listening area.  They see their campaign as not only important for stopping fracking and fracking waste, but as a means of ensuring that the power of the people to propose ballot initiatives as guaranteed by the Constitution is not eliminated---particularly for groups with little or no industry-monetary or lobby backing.

CBMF’s Arguments Against Fracking

High volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing — commonly called fracking — was developed in the late 1990s.  After drilling the well several miles underground, first vertically and then horizontally, companies mix chemicals — many of them cancer-causing or neurotoxic — with millions of gallons of water and sand, then blast the mixture underground under intense pressure to break up deep shale or other rock formations and extract oil and natural gas.  Michigan has already started this new kind of drilling — fracking — in the Utica/Collingwood shale and A-1 Carbonate formations.  The first such high volume well was completed in Michigan in 2010 in Missaukee County.  Approximately 57 wells were permitted from 2010 through the beginning of 2014, of which 10 are producing.  This new technique bears little resemblance to earlier fracking.

Ban is Needed

There is ample scientific evidence that no extreme energy extraction can be made safe.  Fracking is inherently destructive to human health and the environment and has already done extensive damage in the 15 or so years it has been going on in the U.S.  You’ll hear that the industry is “well-regulated” and that improved regulations are the answer.  But regulations are simply legal permission to allow a polluting industry to operate, and the instructions to do so.  Some regulations attempt to mitigate some harm but allow the frack industry to continue nonetheless.  A ban actually protects us by preventing the harm in the first place. In Michigan law, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals is required to “foster the development of the industry along the most favorable conditions” to maximize oil and gas production.  With a law like that on the books since the 1930s, it’s no wonder that the DEQ is a captured agency, required to work hand-in-glove with the gas industry.  The state receives 5% of gross cash market value of the production of gas and 6.6% of oil.   In addition, companies engaged in fracking gave more than $5 million to state lawmakers to “ignore the dangers of fracking and embrace its expansion.”

Fracking is Inherently Unsafe

“‘Fracking’ is not new,” says the gas and oil industry and the Michigan DEQ.  “We’ve been doing it safely for over 60 years, with no contamination or harm. We have great regulations and we enforce them all, most of the time.  But we can tweak them a bit if it makes people feel better.  We need fracking to give us energy independence from foreign sources.  Fracking brings lots of local jobs, and natural gas is cleaner than coal.  There is no proof of water problems or health issues.”

Sounds great, yes?  These statements are part of a great fairy tale perpetuated by the oil and gas industry worldwide, repeated by the DEQ, and frequently passed on by the media without question or research.  Science and the facts tell a very different story.

Water is contaminated

Vast amounts of water are required throughout the drilling and fracking process.  Michigan, with more private groundwater drinking wells than any other state and is using more water per frack well than any other state.  One frack well used 21 million gallons and some new applications seek 35 million gallons for each well, with several such wells on one pad.  Multiplied by the thousands of new frack wells that the industry would like to place throughout the Lower Peninsula, that adds up to a lot of water.  As much water would be used by just 17 new horizontal high-volume wells as all 12,000 mostly Antrim- shale wells over the past 60 years combined.  Industry takes this public resource that sustains life and intentionally poisons it with chemicals.  Water used for fracking is destroyed, forever lost to the hydrologic cycle.

Given these massive amounts of water, the amount of chemicals used is also enormous.  Just one well using 35 million gallons of water would require about 175,000 gallons of chemicals.  Toxic chemicals are used at every stage of development to reach and release the gas.  More than 900 products using over 600 chemicals have been identified including the BTEX group — benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene — as well as lead, methanol, and 2-butoxyethanol.  We are not allowed to know what some of these chemicals are, as the industry calls them “trade secrets.”  Of the chemicals known to be used in fracking, 75% could affect the skin, eyes, and respiratory and gastrointestinal systems, 40-50% could affect the brain and nervous system, immune and cardiovascular systems, and the kidneys, 37% could affect the endocrine system, and 25% could cause cancer and mutations.

Toxic wastes created

Fracking operations are highly industrial processes that create huge amounts of contaminated waste.  Drilling muds and cuttings, though toxic, are solidified on site or brought to landfills.  The water-sand-chemical mixture used for fracking that partially comes back up as “flowback” (and later as liquid waste that the gas industry calls “produced water”), is so poisonous it is stored in tanks until trucked to injection wells and put underground, supposedly “forever.”  These wastes contain all of the toxic chemicals originally added plus naturally occurring radioactive materials, heavy metals, arsenic and other harmful substances. Michigan has 1,460 Class II injection wells.  With increased fracking in and out of Michigan, more injection wells will be needed to handle the ballooning frack waste burden, with wastes likely being brought here from fracking elsewhere.  Well structures — the cement and steel casing barriers between the drilled frack well or injection well and our aquifers — are known to fail at rates of about 5% right after drilling.  More fail later, and most fail eventually.  Well casing and cement failures lead to contaminated water and methane leaks.  In addition to the toxic frack well and injection well sites, the complexes include compressor stations and processing facilities which also discharge waste into the air, including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, formaldehyde, sulfur dioxide, and methane.  Injection wells, and now frack wells, have been shown to cause earthquakes in Ohio.  There has been an increasing number of earthquakes in several states with fracking.

Fracking worsens global warming

Natural gas (which is mostly methane), is promoted by some as a “bridge fuel” we can use instead of coal and oil before switching someday to renewable energy.  Yet methane is now known to be the second largest contributor to human-caused global warming after carbon dioxide.  It is a more potent greenhouse gas, retaining more heat in the short term, than carbon dioxide — 86 times more over 20 years and 125 times more over 10 years.  Methane emissions occur throughout the extraction life cycle of fracking, much of it unfixable.  The greenhouse gas footprint is now, and unless curtailed will remain, so large that scientists studying methane emissions conclude that fracking for natural gas is a “bridge to nowhere,” increasing global warming on a scale worse than coal and oil.  Fracking, even “regulated” fracking, displaces the roll-out of renewables which climate scientists tell us must begin rapidly — now — in order to avoid catastrophic climate impacts.

Health impacts of fracking

The frack industry harms human and animal health.  Scientific studies are now catching up to document the nightmare people are experiencing.  The exposure pathways are water, air and soil.  Studies show high levels of toxic compounds in the air and water.  Recent studies found that people living within a half mile around frack industry sites are at greater risk for cancer and birth defects increase within ten miles.

Symptoms health professionals observed in Pennsylvania include skin rash, nausea, vomiting, cough, abdominal pain, breathing difficulties, nosebleeds, stress and nervous system problems, including headache and dizziness, and eye and throat irritation.  A jury awarded a Texas family nearly $3 million in a landmark victory in 2014 for their illnesses suffered due to pollution caused by nearby drilling operations, believed to be the first case whereby harmed plaintiffs refused to settle with a nondisclosure agreement.  A compiled list of those harmed by the frack industry has now grown to 6,000 nationwide.  People are leaving their homes due to lack of drinkable water, air contamination, and ill health.  Michigan is a high hydrogen sulfide (H2S) area.  When this deadly gas escapes during extraction, it endangers entire communities and workers alike.  People are permanently poisoned by exposure to H2S.

Property loses value

If you are a property owner seeking income from signing a lease to drill on your land — think again.  First of all, your property value goes down immediately.  A spill will end any chance for organic farm certification.  Many banks no longer give mortgages or loans on land that is leased for fracking.  Insurance companies are canceling homeowner policies and will not cover the damage.  Whole neighborhoods lose value when anyone allows drilling.  Royalties can not compensate for this loss.  When water or land become contaminated, your property is likely not salable.

Fracking for overseas markets

While the industry and our leaders from the president on down tell us we have 100 years of natural gas and we are on our way to energy independence with fracked gas, the truth is that most fracked gas is destined for shipping overseas to Europe and Asia where there is maximum profit and need.  What is missing now are the pipelines, refineries and liquefied natural gas terminals to move it out of the country.  As soon as these are in place, more wells will come into production, export will expand and prices here at home will rise as our supplies dwindle.  Regulations are not going to change the rules of global market economics.  This is not sustainable, lasting energy independence.  The fossil fuel frack industry is boom-bust, leaving communities with contamination, health impacts and worse global warming.

Impacts on jobs

Most fracking jobs are precarious and short-term.  Workers are rarely from Michigan.  The industry uses a national or international pool of experienced workers.  They stay in “man camps” and add to social problems.  Rents skyrocket, STD cases and crime increase, and demands on health and social services increase.  Once temporary workers leave, the toxic infrastructure is left.  Industry jobs data do not take into account the number of jobs lost in agriculture and tourism after the land and water are destroyed or jobs created in alternative energy fields if fracking is banned.

Food and fracking don’t mix

Fracking contaminates our food system.  Farmland, now converted to industrial land use, becomes fragmented and loses productivity.  Water and soil become contaminated for crops.  Poisoned animals sicken and die.  Wastes laden with radioactive material and heavy metals are brought to the surface.  Toxins and carcinogens become part of our food. 

Summary of Michigan Law Regarding Petitioning for Ballot Proposals

Citizens of Michigan may initiate legislation as either an indirectly initiated state statute or a directly initiated constitutional amendment.  For statutes, if the petition receives enough valid signatures, then the state legislature has 40 days to adopt or reject the proposal.  If the legislature rejects the law, then the measure is placed on the next general election ballot.  For amendments, if the petition contains sufficient signatures, then the measure is placed directly on the next general election ballot.  In addition, residents have the power to repeal legislation via veto referendum.  The Michigan State Legislature can also place measures on the ballot as legislatively referred constitutional amendments.

252,523

Michigan's signature requirements depend on the total number of votes cast for the office of governor at the last gubernatorial election  For statutes, valid signatures equaling 8% of this total are required.  For amendments, signatures equal to 10% are required.

Electronic signatures

Since electronic signatures are an emerging technology, the constitutionality of bans on e-signatures and the legality of e-signatures in states without bans is largely untested.  Michigan law does mandate that signatures be collected in person.

Deadlines for collection

Practically speaking, in Michigan, petitioners have 180 days to collect the bulk of the required signatures.  Signatures older than 180 days at the time of filing are presumed "stale and void."  Petitioners, however, can go through a process to prove that signatures older than 180 days are valid.  The process has proved difficult for many petitioners and involves working with local clerks and election officials.  In addition, any signatures collected before a November election where a governor is elected, cannot be submitted after that election.  Amendment petitions must be filed 120 days prior to the election.  Petitions for statutes must be filed 160 days prior to the election, allowing the legislators 40 days to pass the proposed law.

Signature verification

In Michigan, signatures are filed with the secretary of state and verified by the board of state canvassers using a random sample method of verification.

Additional Resources:

The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan

CBFM News Releases

CBFM Lawsuit

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu