Fracking stirs debate in Michigan

graphic describing the fracking process

Taylor Mabelitini | Washtenaw Voice




For Michigan, from its Great Lakes’ shorelines to the inland lakes that speckle the lower peninsula, freshwater is one of its most valuable resources. Some believe that the process of hydraulic oil fracking is detrimental to the environment, and to the freshwater more specifically; the state has recently been facing a battle about whether or not this is true. The concern has even reached the campus of Washtenaw Community College.

This year, on May 22, the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan launched a ballot initiative. The committee is not a non-profit organization but a political campaign – meaning it’s a Ballot Question Committee registered with the state of Michigan Bureau of Elections. This grassroots movement is commonly called “Let’s Ban Fracking.”

The legislative ballot initiative hopes to collect 252,523 valid signatures by Nov. 11, 2015. If it were to pass, the law would change the state statute and ban horizontal fracking and frack wastes. The law would also remove some of the wording in the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act.

Hannah Degutis, 22, a WCC fire science major from Ann Arbor, and a “Fractivist,” collects signatures for this petition. She explains that fracking is “the chemical process in which they drill into the shale level of the crust. They use many tons of water for it to be necessary to move around elements under the crust. Then, they add a chemical mixture to pull the oil from that level of the crust.”

The debatable aspect concerns the chemicals used throughout the process. Siena Heights University assistant biology professor Thomas Wassmer, Ph.D. further explains that hydrofracking takes water, under high pressure, down into a well and uses it to break up sedimentary rock which serves as a reserve for gas oil.

“It involves quite a large amount of water that is pumped down with a not very healthy cocktail of chemicals that are used to help with the job,” Wassmer said. “The biggest issue is that it uses a lot of chemicals that are pumped into the ground and they they are staying there.”

In agreement is 22-year-old WCC creative writing major Tyler Wettig from Caseville. He took up arms with Degutis as a fellow “Fractivist,” encouraging people to sign the petition. He describes fracking as “pure evil.”

However, not everyone shares the same opinion when it comes to the dangers of this process. Beth Everage, policy director for Consumer Energy Alliance out of Texas, explains that that this method has been around for at least 60 years and that it’s not a new process or new technology.

“We’ve been coexisting with fracking for quite a long time,” Everage said.

She says that as consumers of energy, people need to realize the benefits from energy sources and that educating themselves on the issue is beneficial. When first inquiring about the fracking process, Everage says she was told that fracking fluids are primarily water, proprietaries of water and surfactant – or a “fancy way of saying soap.”

“You can look that up,” Everage said. “I know that there are other chemicals involved and you can’t make a blanket statement because not every company uses the same mixture.”

Not only does this opposition believe that the chemicals are misrepresented, but a Michigan region Consumer Alliance colleague, Executive Director Chris Ventura, provides benefits of the process.

“There’s a number of benefits ranging from jobs…(to) the direct benefits for anyone, who uses fuel for any reason, whether it’s for home heating or flipping on a light switch,” Ventura said.

He says that according to state regulations, fracking is not harmful to the environment or anything else. He added that numerous studies support that claim, including one recently conducted by the University of Michigan.

Everage commented that as consumers of energy, she likes to have models that support extracting oil domestically.

“In this unstable foreign situation that we are dealing with, globally, we need to make sure that we have safe, secure energy sources at home,” Everage said. “We want to be independent and not dependent on these foreign sources. We want to produce this and create jobs locally.”

As November approaches and “Fractivists” continue to collect signatures in hopes of banning fracking in the state of Michigan, the debate trickles on.

Degutis explained that some Michiganders are not the only ones concerned with their state’s fracking regulations. New York has recently banned hydraulic oil fracturing and states like Ohio and Pennsylvania have not banned it, but have taken steps to ban the waste from being stored in their communities, according to Degutis.

“Whatever side of the issue you sit on, if you are pro oil and gas or against oil and gas, you can’t deny that you are consumers of energy, and simply the fact that we utilize products that are outcomes of energy production and exploration, every day of our lives,” Everage said.






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