26 April 2012

Natural Gas Drilling in Michigan Up for Debate

Story first appeared in The Detroit News.

Michigan legislators are considering tightening the state's regulations on a controversial natural gas extraction technique.

A bill introduced this week by House Democrats would require companies producing natural gas in Michigan through hydraulic fracturing to fully disclose the chemical solution used in their processes — a level of openness the industry has long opposed.

Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," has been used to harvest natural gas in Michigan for decades. To release gas trapped deep in the earth, companies pump a water/chemical mix, or "fracking fluid," into the shale formations below the surface. That causes the rock structures to fracture, releasing the natural gas there to be pumped back up to the surface.

In recent years, producers have utilized new technologies to drill vertically and then several thousand meters horizontally, opening up far more area for harvesting than was before possible.

But concerns over the impacts of fracking have made the process the target of criticism from environmental groups. In other states, fracking fluid is believed to have contaminated groundwater supplies.  The involvement of Fracking Experts is extremely important to make sure that proper procedures are followed to avoid additional environmental contamination.

In the past, companies in Michigan have only been required to disclose 99.5 percent of their fracking formula. The rest has been considered proprietary information that gas companies could keep to themselves.

This week, Democrats in Michigan are introducing a bill that would require companies seeking permits for hydraulic fracturing to disclose their complete recipe for fracking fluid. This would require a full disclosure before a permit can be given. Michigan residents just want to know what's being put into the ground and, probably, the water.

Deep below the top third of Michigan's Lower Peninsula lies the Collingwood shale formation — a natural gas deposit that has drawn great interest in recent years from exploration companies. Calgary, Alberta-based Encana Corp. has dug three test wells over the last two years to judge the viability of hydraulic fracturing there.

A spokesman for Encana has said the company already voluntarily participates in a database that provides the communities where it drills with the baseline 99.5 percent of information. And in cases where questions arise over possible groundwater contamination from fracking, the company has provided local officials with the full content of its fluid. Encana feels that their approach has been a good balance between providing the proprietary cover companies want and at the same time, providing access that the public feels is warranted.

Without having seen the reporting requirements of the new bill, Hock declined to discuss what impact it might have on Encana's future plans for exploration in Michigan.

A policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council, said there has been a shift in the political climate on full disclosure for hydraulic fracturing in recent years. Natural Gas Experts have made it clear that they feel that the full chemical solution should be provided to avoid environmental contamination.

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