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Experts at Kent County forum claim fracking is safe in Michigan, but audience wasn’t buying it

October 19, 2012

Last night about 60 people showed up to a forum at the Cannon Township offices to talk about the issue of hydraulic fracturing in Michigan.

The forum, hosted by 73rd District State Representative Peter MacGregor, was biased from the get go. The three “experts” were all state workers, one from the DNR and two from the DEQ.

When people entered the meeting space Rep. MacGregor handed them an information sheet, which was just an FAQ document put out by the DEQ that had no sources to support the claims made, even though it refuted many of the major concerns about hydraulic fracturing. There were also glossy documents on a table put out by the Michigan Oil & Gas Producers Education Foundation, which were brought by oil & gas industry people who did not identify themselves until they were questioned by this writer at the end of the night.

At the beginning of the forum, when Rep. MacGregor spoke, one of the Oil & Gas representatives leaned over and said to another industry person, “We gotta give him (MacGregor) some money,” and then winked.

The representative from the DNR spoke first and talked a little about the history of oil and gas drilling in the state. He said that Michigan produces 22% of its own natural gas use, which means an additional 78% needs to be imported. However, he framed these comments to suggest that “our” natural gas consumption levels required the additional importation, but he never clarified how natural gas is consumed in the state. The audience didn’t hear how much was consumed by industry, commercial or residential needs, instead spoke as if “our” natural gas needs were collective.

The DNR representative then spoke about how the State gets royalties when giving out oil & gas leases. The state makes money from the sale of the lease, like the rights to extract oil & gas that are being auctioned off next Wednesday in Lansing. He also stated that if oil and gas is extracted, the state can get up to one-sixth of the value of a producing well.

Revenue from leases in 2012 alone equaled nearly $36 million. He stated that the money gained from these sales go to state parks and the Game & Fish Protection Trust Fund. He also stated that the Oil & Gas industry currently leases 1,511,265 acres in Michigan.

One revealing statement given by the DNR representative was in response to a question asked about why the state doesn’t discontinue any additional leasing for oil & gas extraction on public land. The DNR guy said, “It doesn’t do us any good if the land is just sitting there.”

Another resident asked the person from the DNR what recourse people have if they don’t want fracking to take place near them or anywhere else in the state? He responded by saying that people have been writing letters to the Governor, “but we make a lot of money off the leasing and the necessary protections are in place.”

A representative from the DEQ spoke next, with specific information about the hydraulic fracturing process and how “safe it is.” He stated that Michigan has different standards than most other states in the country, so all of the public concerns are not necessary.

At one point the DEQ person was talking about projected energy use increases in the state and how natural gas is likely to be one of the major energy sources that will fulfill the state’s energy needs through 2035. However, he spoke about this as if it was a given, meaning the growth of renewable energy sources would not replace fossil fuels, nor was there an assumption that the energy consumption levels would drop to avoid further climate catastrophe.

The DEQ spokesperson pretty much echoed the positions in the FAQ document put out by the DEQ, but when he was questioned on some of these issues he engaged in word play in order to sidestep what seemed obvious to this writer. For instance, when asked about the cancer causing realities of some of the chemicals used in fracking he said that one would have to be exposed to them and then they might get cancer. However, he said earlier in the presentation that these were cancer causing chemicals, not chemicals that might given you cancer.

When someone questioned him about the use of fracking brine on roads, which was done in Kalkaska County in May, he said that that was a mistake and his office put order to stop this from happening. However, he qualified that statement by say that this practice os only on hold for a year, until more studies can be done, which contradicted an earlier statement that the public would never be exposed to the chemicals used in fracking.

At one point the guy from the DEQ also stated that if people had questions about what chemicals were being used, since the DEQ does not require full disclosure (they said they can determine through testing which chemicals are used) that people should check out the site Frac Focus. They claimed that this was a site where companies could voluntarily post what chemicals they were using.

However, what they didn’t tell those in attendance is that Frac Focus is run by two entities, the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission. Both groups are a partnership between the state and oil & gas industry with no independent representation. The Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission host bi-annual conferences with the next one in Texas at the end of this month, a conference being sponsored by the likes of BP, Marathon Oil, Shell, Chesapeake Energy, Halliburton and Enbridge. One would be hard pressed to think that such an entity would actually operate with the public interest in mind.

All throughout the night Rep. MacGregor and the men from the DEQ and DNR kept trying to convince those in attendance that there was nothing to worry about in regards to the issue of hydraulic fracturing, but people were not buying it.

One woman made the point about the protection of the rural way of life and when drilling begins, truck traffic increases, noise increases, chemical use increases, etc. “We’ll have to live with a terminal being built in our communities.”

Another person pointed out that the DEQ representative stated, “We do the best we can with the existing laws, but the existing laws protect and benefit BP and other oil & gas companies, particularly since the Halliburton loophole was put in place.” The person from the DEQ then said they were more mistrusting of the industry than those in attendance.

Someone else asked questions about the chemical contaminated fracking brine that was being store under ground and if there were studies being done to demonstrate that it would never leak and if so, who was conducting these studies? The DEQ guy said, “We are really smart. We don’t know the recipe, but we can test for what kinds are being used.” He said that this brine could not come through the rock, but he never addressed the issue of earthquakes creating cracks for the brine to leak into the ground water or the fact that fracking itself could cause fissures in these rock formations.

It was clear that after two hours, despite the attempts from MacGregor and the state workers that people were still skeptical of what the oil & gas industry is doing through the practice of fracking.

At the end of the night, this writer asked if there were oil & gas representatives in the audience and 4 of them raised their hands. None of them asked questions all night and it is safe to assume that they were gauging public opinion in order to come up with clear talking points in order to minimize any scrutiny. I also asked Rep. MacGregor if he was the recipient of any oil & gas industry money and he responded by saying, “I am 99.9% sure I have not,” which isn’t a definite no.

People in Kent County should be concerned about this issue, especially since the DNR will be auctioning off hundreds of acres in Kent County next Wednesday in Lansing, which means that there could be oil & gas fracking taking place on public land in the areas highlighted in the map shown here, with the darkest parts being public land up for auction. You can see that the areas to the north in Kent County are between Sparta and Cedar Springs, some land near Lowell and a corridor along the Grand River and 131 near Rockford. You can also search this DEQ document to see exactly which parcels of land are being auctioned off in the state on October 24.

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