EPA blasts DEQ application for injection well primacy, as Michigan taxpayers pump more money to DEQ

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by Ellis Boal

 

Class II injection Well, Wyles Howard, Holmes County, Ohio, with 181,513 barrels of fracking waste having been processed between Q3-2010 and Q1-2015. Photo courtesy of FracTracker.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has rejected a draft application of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to take control of regulation of the state’s oil-gas waste injection wells, Ban Michigan Fracking (BMF) learned recently via an information request to EPA.

The DEQ draft failed to “demonstrate” that its proposal would be “effective … to prevent underground injection which endangers drinking water sources.”

According to a polite cover letter of last January, EPA’s two “fundamental” concerns were that DEQ would provide less protection than EPA and the wording of DEQ’s draft was illogical:

EPA’s first concern is that certain Michigan regulatory provisions limit effective protection of USDWs [underground sources of drinking water]. Of particular concern is Michigan’s definition of “fresh water.” It is narrower in scope than the federal definition of USDWs….

EPA is also concerned about a number of inconsistencies and unclear descriptions in the draft application which prevent a clear understanding of the proposed program and introduce legal or technical ambiguity.

By contrast, for Kentucky this spring EPA approved primacy.

The DEQ drafts

There are about 1300 injection wells for oil and gas operations in Michigan, 900 of which are for waste disposal and the rest for what is called “enhanced recovery.”

These are called “class II” wells. Currently both DEQ and EPA have to sign off on any new class II permit, but DEQ is seeking what is called “primacy”: it would have sole power over decisionmaking and enforcement of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in regard to class II, with but little EPA oversight.

DEQ’s August 2015 draft to EPA was actually a second draft. Previously we reported that in November 2014 DEQ had asserted it was “well equipped” for primacy, and claimed a “record of accomplishment for excellent environmental protection” and “good customer service” to the public. In the same paragraph it misspelled the adjective for “climate”: “climactic.”

A month later in December it held a secret “public hearing,” which is when it gave EPA the first draft.

Our article noted the secret hearing and the 2015 second draft. In 2015 DEQ and EPA were reeling from disclosures they had both dropped the ball in protection of Flint residents from lead in their drinking water.

We outlined the well-known history of failures of all well casings, whether or not they are inspected and regulated rigorously. We also noted DEQ’s separate admission of inadequate regulation of gas storage wells. (Michigan has more active storage fields than any other state.) We cited big protests against injection wells in three Michigan townships, to which one more can now be added in Johnstown Township Barry County in April 2017.

BMF filed objections to the first draft on several grounds, highlighting the DEQ definition of “fresh water,” and noting that for primacy approval DEQ would first have to change its administrative rules. Changing the rules is a lengthy process involving a draft, a public hearing, and approval by the state regulatory office plus two different legislative committees. Rule changes can take a year or more.

 

Class II injection well, Baughman W & Lucas C, Morrow County, Ohio, with 103,360 barrels of fracking waste having been processed between Q3-2010 and Q1-2016. Photo courtesy of FracTracker.

Also commenting on the first draft was petroleum geologist and writer Lee Smith. Among other things Smith questioned that state funding was insufficient without increasing the surveillance fees collected from oil and gas producers. He noted that DEQ was proposing to add only one new position to coordinate the injection program rather than four. Four would be comparable to the EPA-approved primacy program in Ohio.

(The wells pictured in this article are in Ohio. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has its own primacy problems, one being “capture” of the agency by the oil-gas industry and another being an ODNR attack on “eco-left pressure groups.” It named the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Counsel as examples.)

EPA’s blast

According to the cover letter of the EPA rejection in January, the two agencies had exchanged phone and email correspondence and had a meeting in EPA’s Chicago office.

The cover letter was accompanied by two detailed attachments, totaling 77 pages. The attachments mentioned the Michigan attorney general had participated in the conversations about some of the points below. Noting that “public input and hearings have been an area of public interest on Michigan wells during the last 5 years” (the period BMF has existed), the attachments specify several defects and inconsistencies including:

  • Certain “crucial” technical requirements are legally unenforceable, because they are not spelled out in DEQ’s administrative rules or in part 615 (DEQ’s oil-gas statute), but only in the draft application. Examples include requirements for chemical analyses of new brine sources “as they are added,” minimum cement casing conditions, and existence of surface casing. For EPA approval DEQ should have adopted legal requirements for “protecting USDWs from endangerment by injection operations.”
  • The administrative rules’ definition of class II wells does not “does not include wells used for hydraulic fracturing activities where diesel fuels are used,” as it should. Hydraulic fracturing “is a form of enhanced recovery.”
  • The rules require no information about the injection intervals’ confining zones.
  • The draft application language on mechanical integrity is “difficult to follow.”
  • Suspension of well operations in case of a violation and threat to the public would be limited to 21 days in the draft application, even though in EPA’s experience return to compliance by an operator after a violation can take more than 21 days.
  • The draft application uses the terms “fracture gradient” and “fracture pressure” interchangeably “although they are different physical parameters.”
  • “[S]ome Michigan rules may strongly limit input or place a high documentation burden on people in order to petition for a hearing.”

Fewer staff, increased work, more danger

The EPA letter was last January. According to DEQ manager Adam Wygant in April, “Michigan seeking primacy is still in [the] works, there will likely first be some changes to Part 615 Administrative Rules.”

But DEQ has no primacy-related rule changes listed in its regulatory plan for the year ending June 30.

Even if it proposes rule changes for the next year, given Smith’s comments about staff and funding, how could DEQ take on the additional workload? According to Midwest Energy News in April, DEQ says a hiring freeze is in effect for the oil-gas program, staffing levels have dropped 18% from a few years ago, and it expects to cut back on well inspection rates.

DEQ has less money because oil-gas production has been down. Most revenue for oil-gas surveillance comes from a percent DEQ gets of operator production. Hal Fitch, director of DEQ’s oil-gas operations, admitted an ethics issue, Midwest Energy News reports, at least in regard to incentives:

Some would say if (industry) is paying for it then our agency is beholden to the industry — I’d argue that’s not the case — and if we’re dependent on a fee for production then we have an incentive to increase production regardless of impacts.

Reduced staff and funding theoretically should mean reduced permitting. Instead, even without primacy DEQ’s workload is increasing. Plugged wells like producing wells require oversight. As noted above, eventually they leak. Abandoned operations can be dangerous. The fatal gas explosion in a house in Colorado in April was caused by an abandoned pipeline from a nearby well.

Michigan has 35,000 shut wells, and they don’t produce oil, gas, or jobs. The number of shut wells is constantly increasing. The reason for so many wells is the state’s statutory policy, on the books since 1939, requiring DEQ to “foster” the industry “favorably” and “maximize” production. In other words the more wells — and eventually the more abandonment — the better.

(The foster-the-industry policy will evaporate when the initiative campaign of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan succeeds.)

 

Danny Long & Sons SWIW #9 & #12, Stark County, Ohio, with 22,486 barrels of fracking waste having been processed between Q2-2014 and Q1-2016. Photo courtesy of FracTracker.

Reduced inspection rates at the same time as increased workload? Unions used to call this “speed-up.” And it is a recipe for disasters like what happened in Colorado. After decades, the chickens are coming home to roost.

Taxpayers subsidizing the oil-gas industry

Midwest Energy News also reported that Michigan lawmakers recently have been “subsidizing oil and gas development.” Last year they approved a $4 million infusion into the DEQ oil-gas program from the taxpayer-supported general revenue fund. A similar transfer is expected for this year. This is above and beyond the surveillance fee assessed to the industry.

According to the annual regulatory plan, conformance bond amounts for operators haven’t risen in over 20 years, and DEQ is considering an increase.

But a bond increase won’t be enough, particularly if DEQ manages to change its administrative rules to EPA’s satisfaction to get primacy over oil-gas injection. If bonds now and in the past actually were high enough, lawmakers would not be considering a taxpayer subsidy.

Michigan taxpayers should not subsidize a single dime for climate-changing oil-gas production. Nor should matters be made worse by subsidizing the disposal of oil-gas waste here.

Michigan Foia law protects secrecy of permits for gas-oil wells disguised as mineral wells

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by Ellis Boal

On March 16 the Michigan court of appeals rejected an appeal of a FOIA information case brought by landowner Gary Cooley and Ban Michigan Fracking about a supposed “mineral well” in Crawford County. Though not questioning their standing, the court held plaintiffs had not stated a proper claim of right to information.

D4-11, October 6, 2016. Photo: LuAnne Kozma.

Plaintiffs had sought the environmental impact assessment (EIA) and other information about this well drilled in the state forest a mile from Cooley’s property in Beaver Creek Township.

In 2015 Cooley, who opposes gas-oil development in the state forest, refused an offer to lease the gas, oil, and minerals under him. The offer included a signing bonus and a royalty interest.

Typically the requested documents are voluminous, sometimes running to over 100 pages. In particular the EIA has information about water wells, wetlands, surface waters, endangered species, pad facilities, soil erosion, and disposal of fluids and brines at or near the wellhead. These are items of interest to any nearby landowner.

“D4-11″

The applicant for the well was Marathon Oil, which owns nearly 1000 square miles of leases in Michigan under state land. The name of the well is “Beaver Creek D4-11,” or just “D4-11.” In June 2015 Marathon applied for a permit under “part 625,” the state’s law for mineral wells.

The only evidence D4-11 would actually be a mineral well and not a gas-oil well was a non-notarized “x” in a box on page 1 of Marathon’s application form. (This page is the one document which Marathon had to make public.) According to the instructions for that form, the application was supposed to have described in detail the well’s “purpose.”

According to the same page 1, D4-11 was to be a non-exploratory vertical mineral “test well,” and the drill rig would target the “Amherstburg” formation at 4700 feet. (DEQ provides for the possibility of horizontal wellbores and fracking on a different form for mineral wells.)

DEQ granted the permit on an unknown date.

The drill rig had seen service in oil-gas exploration in North Dakota a thousand miles away before coming to D4-11. The nearly-200-foot-tall rig must have cost Marathon millions to transport and operate. Marathon Oil is in the oil-gas business. In September a worker on the rig told a visitor, me, the company hoped to find gas or oil. A blowout preventer was left in place after the rig departed D4-11, a practice required only by the gas-oil rules, not the mineral well rules.

An official DEQ brochure states there are no minerals anywhere in Crawford County.

These and other facts indicated that D4-11 would be a gas-oil well, not a mineral well. Part 625 does not define “mineral.” But in ordinary English minerals are understood to be hard, crystalline, and inorganic, which gas and oil are not. Minerals are extracted by mining but gas and oil are extracted by drilling. And the idea of testing a mineral in a 4700-foot hole is ridiculous.

I published a video and the story of the investigation here.

DEQ rules for gas-oil wells prohibit nuisance noises, but the rules for mineral wells do not.

And unlike for gas-oil wells, FOIA has a confidentiality period lasting 10 years for mineral well data including the permit and EIA. But legally it is the DEQ which has the burden of proof to show the exemption applies.

DEQ answered the FOIA request by denying all information. Relying on the 10-year mineral exemption it refused to say even whether it had actually issued a permit.

Marathon itself was similarly close-mouthed, except by email it did admit there was a permit.

Plaintiffs sued in February 2016. In its responsive motion in May, DEQ finally admitted there was a permit. But it did not provide the date or a copy.

The practice of gas-oil companies which claim mineral well treatment

Later that month I chanced on an article about the work of William Harrison of Western Michigan University, an author of 35 technical papers on Michigan geology. I decided to email him, outlining the theory of the FOIA case, and the evidence showing D4-11 is probably a gas-oil exploratory well not a mineral well. I invited him to view our video of the drill rig, said I would drop the case if D4-11 proved to be a legitimate mineral well, and asked him to respond.

He did, the next day, very helpfully:

Wildcat exploratory wells for oil and gas have often been drilled under the State “Mineral well act” so that a company can gain information about the geologic deposits in that area with out releasing the information to the public and hence their competitors.

I do not have any specific knowledge about the Marathon well you mentioned, but the area in Beaver Creek Township is a well-known oil and gas region with an old very large oil field there called the Beaver Creek Field. The Amherstberg formation is a known oil and gas producing zone in other parts of the state and is very likely the target zone they were evaluating.

The naming of the well “Beaver Creek D4-11″ is also a very common naming style for oil and gas wells. As far as I know other mineral wells that are looking for solid minerals do not use this type of naming convention.

The Amherstberg is not a formation that contains Salt, Potash or any other type of solid minerals that could be produced commercially, so I am reasonably confident that this was an exploratory well for oil and gas that was drilled under the Mineral Well Act

(underlining added)

There was one statement in Harrison’s response, a legal point, that I knew to be wrong:

In fact, oil and gas are considered “minerals” under the definition of that type of well.

He was wrong because, unlike at the Department of Natural Resources, at DEQ there is a strict separation between mineral wells regulated under part 625, and gas-oil wells. The latter are regulated under part 615.

As plaintiffs explained to the court later — in addition to highlighting the DEQ brochure which says there were no minerals in Crawford County — gas and oil are not considered “minerals” at the DEQ. Part 625 excludes gas and oil because gas and oil come under part 615. Even if the purpose of a well is only partially to explore for gas or oil, there must be a 615 permit.

Neither the DEQ’s court brief nor the court’s opinion disputed our contention that gas and oil do not qualify as “minerals.”

I responded to Harrison the same day with documents including Marathon’s page 1, and noted his error about the DEQ definition of “mineral.”

I asked if he would write me a separate letter affirming the opinion just expressed, that the Amherstburg is not a formation that contains solid minerals that could be produced commercially, and therefore he was “reasonably confident” that D4-11 was an exploratory well for oil and gas that was drilled as a mineral well to “maintain confidentiality.” I said this would likely suffice to win the case. I gave information about myself, and offered to pay his regular rates.

He responded the same day:

I am not interested in any consulting work for you or your client.

Rather, he said he provides “basic general information” to the public and is “not involved in any of the regulatory decisions.”

Translated: His practice is not to testify as an expert witness, not for anyone including the industry. I believe him but was surprised he wouldn’t repeat something in court that he had just told me, a stranger, for free.

Later I realized how tied in he is to DEQ and the industry. Last June he joined DEQ’s industry-dominated oil and gas advisory committee. The committee, composed of the “stakeholders,” is supported by several DEQ staff. Last month the Michigan Oil & Gas News pictured him with his wife as “silver medal sponsors” of the annual petroleum conference of the Michigan Oil & Gas Association (MOGA) and Northern Michigan American Petroleum Institute.

Surely everyone else on the DEQ advisory committee knows what he knows, that exploratory wells for gas and oil have “often” been drilled as mineral wells to get geologic information and then kept secret. Surely the rest of them know what he does not, that oil and gas are not DEQ-defined minerals and the oft-repeated claims of mineral well applicants — that their “purpose” is just to test “minerals” but not explore for gas and oil — are false.

Proceedings of the FOIA suit

Harrison’s encouraging emails were not confidential. I would have been free without his permission to quote them and his credentials to the court. But I decided to respect his desire to stay out of it.

The suit made two claims for opening the DEQ files, one of which we dropped when we filed at the court of appeals. (That one had contended that even if D4-11 actually were a mineral well, under a literal reading of the statute, except as to “logs” the confidentiality period applied only “during” the period after the well was “completed,” and D4-11 hadn’t yet been completed on the date of the FOIA request.)

As to the claim that D4-11 was not actually a mineral well, and therefore mineral well confidentiality should not apply, plaintiffs pointed out that the DEQ website links to the dozens of forms which it uses to question applicants for mineral wells. None of the forms asks the applicant whether the well will actually test a mineral. None of the forms asks the applicant to name the mineral it proposes to test.

Stated otherwise, as plaintiffs’ brief did (without citing Harrison’s insightful words):

Plaintiffs have no facts to contend that DEQ and Marathon arranged a sweetheart deal to keep this particular well secret. Rather it appears from the 64 DEQ forms that it never asks any operator who is testing minerals known to be present –- as opposed to exploring to see whether they are present –- to demonstrate the point. If so, DEQ invites a train of abuse from industry operators desiring to maintain secrecy by falsely stating their objectives while not under oath.

The DEQ brief responded:

In other words, even if Mr. Cooley’s allegations of deception on the part of Marathon were factually meritorious … this alleged “deception” would not be illegal.

In reply plaintiffs stated:

to qualify as a mineral well the operator’s intent at the start can only be to explore for or test minerals. In this case the operator’s stated intent was not to explore for a mineral, but to test one…. But … the Marathon safety man’s expression of hope that the company would find gas or oil at D4-11 means in the most literal commonsense sense that the company was “exploring” for gas or oil.

The court ruled on March 16. The unpublished opinion recited none of the facts indicating that D4-11 was actually a gas-oil well except it did acknowledge the claim that Marathon hoped D4-11 would find oil. The court also acknowledged that a plaintiff’s well-pleaded factual allegations have to be accepted as true at this stage, and DEQ had the burden to prove that any exemption for mineral wells under part 625 applied.

At oral argument plaintiffs had noted Marathon’s hope that D4-11 would find oil was not a fact critical to the case, and based on all the other facts, the case would be just as valid had the rig worker not made that admission.

The complaint and exhibits had shown that D4-11 would be a test well not an exploratory well, no minerals exist in Crawford County to even be tested, DEQ excludes gas and oil from its definition of “minerals,” DEQ relied solely on Marathon’s checkbox and did no independent investigation of minerals at D4-11, and the Amherstburg is a formation where Michigan oil prospectors have frequently looked. These facts showed “a good circumstantial case,” the brief said.

But even if these facts were all true, the court held, the exemptions of part 625 still applied. The case ended.

The decision amounts to a ruling that even if DEQ rightly should have processed D4-11 as a gas-oil well under part 615, the fact that it did process it as a mineral well under part 625 controls, and the exemptions to FOIA apply.

What should a landowner do?

Anyone can sit in on the quarterly meetings of the mentioned DEQ advisory committee, and minutes of past meetings are available on request.

Just one of its eight members is from an environmental organization, and that one (Michigan United Conservation Club) has long accommodated the gas-oil industry. Its director recently left there to become director of MOGA.

Since joining the committee Harrison has not brought to its attention the frequent industry practice of filing for a mineral well in cases where his expert opinion is that the operator’s purpose is really to explore for oil.

Landowner Cooley’s court complaint only sought information. It did not seek to invalidate the permit. So in the future suppose some landowner notices an ugly new several-acre gash in the forest nearby and a big noisy drill rig going up. Suppose too the rig gives every indication it is exploring for gas or oil, but DEQ claims it is really a mineral well.

Is there a remedy? Yes.

One tack would be to just assert that a permit was issued and then sue to invalidate it. A Michigan statute allows such a suit in the court of claims. The gas-oil applicant would have to be named as a co-defendant. The statute has no requirement to exhaust administrative remedies before suing, and indeed how could a landowner try to exhaust given that all information was refused? The statute of limitations is a very short 21 days, but would not be a problem if DEQ refused the permit date.

Circumstantial evidence can prove any case. Expert testimony such as what Harrison refused for D4-11 would likely be necessary, because unlike in a FOIA case the plaintiff would have the burden of proof. The burden would be satisfied simply by showing the “purpose” of the well, at least in part, is more likely than not to explore for gas or oil.

DEQ could hardly defend in light its practice of not investigating the real purpose of a mineral well. The defense, if any, could come only from the gas-oil applicant. But in the face of the plaintiff’s evidence, it would have to provide facts including the name of the supposed mineral. It would lose if it merely answered “it is a mineral well because we say so.”

Litigation isn’t the only way. Instead the landowner could find someone knowledgeable in the academic world, and then publicize the well. Surely experts are there who would be willing to shame a practice which sacrifices landowners and the environment to profit-driven competitive gas-oil interests. Surely someone would be willing to speak up.

Barry County injection well EPA hearing is April 19

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A nearby, producing well also owned by Arbor Operating, Swanson 5-7, in Johnstown Township in Barry County. Photo by Jackie Schmitz.

A nearby, producing well also owned by Arbor Operating, Swanson 5-7, in Johnstown Township in Barry County. Photo by Jackie Schmitz.

Residents in Barry County are preparing for a public hearing held by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a proposed underground injection well in Johnstown Township. A Traverse City-based company, Arbor Operating, seeks to operate a class 2 well,  Swanson 4-7 SWD, which would take toxic wastes from oil and gas wells for permanent disposal. The permit application is requesting for a dry oil well on Manning Road to be converted to an injection well. The company now brings its wastes from three oil/gas wells to Calhoun County for disposal.

Diagram of an underground injection well for oil and gas industry wastes. EPA illustration, in the public domain.

Diagram of an underground injection well for oil and gas industry wastes. EPA illustration, in the public domain.

Anyone concerned about injection wells in Michigan are welcome to attend and provide comments to the EPA. The hearing is preceded by a public informational meeting. Both take place at the Hastings Public Library.

If you cannot attend, please send written comments.

Location: Hastings Public Library, 227 E. State Street, Hastings, MI (upstairs)

Date: Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Time:  Public Meeting 6:00 to 7:30 pm, followed by Public HEARING 7:30 to 9:00 pm

Come early to register to speak and be prepared to give a 3-minute comment.

April 21 Deadline for written comments: The written public comment period ends Friday, April 21 (midnight postmark). Send new comments to: Jeffrey Wawczak, U.S. EPA Region 5 (WU-16J), 77 W. Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL 60604-3950. Comments can be submitted by email: wawczak.jeffrey@epa.gov

See the EPA Public Notice here.

Articles:

“A Proposed Injection Well for Barry County,” Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation,

“EPA plans to allow fracking-waste well in Johnstown Township; opens public hearing before approval,” Hastings Reminder, March 25, 2017

“State, EPA say proposed brine disposal well in Barry County is safe” MLive, April 13, 2017.

 

Michiganders: Getting a ban on fracking on the ballot needs YOU

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Need more Volunteers
By LuAnne Kozma

To get a ban on fracking and frack wastes on the November 2016 ballot, the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan needs more people to help collect signatures.

If you haven’t been involved, now is the time. It’s urgent. We’ve got a state to protect!

The deadline for collecting all the signatures is end of May 2016.

VOLUNTEER TODAY at WWW.LETSBANFRACKING.ORG

This is grassroots democracy

Over 150,000 people signed the petition last year. We were at as many festivals, farmers markets, concerts, and street corners as we could last spring, summer and fall. Nearly 800 people were involved. We were everywhere! We met enthusiastic supporters from every county in the state.

At our press conference in November 2015 with our 150,000 signatures.

At our press conference in November 2015 with our 150,000 signatures.We are a true grassroots campaign.

We are a true grassroots campaign. Last year, 100 volunteers collected over 92,000 signatures. Another 659 volunteers collected nearly 43,000 signatures. Paid circulators collected an additional 16,000.

Using our 150,000 signatures collected in 2015

The signatures collected last year have been verified using the Qualified Voter File. We plan to use all of the valid signatures in the submittal. While there is a Legislative effort to stop us through Senate Bill 776, (currently in the House Elections Committee), if passed, it will only force us into court.IMG_9157

But without enough signatures to submit, we can’t continue the fight. We’re not at the 252,523 valid signature mark yet.

During the long winter, many people dropped out, for various reasons: ill health, family obligations, moving out of state, etc. The bottom line is, we need NEW people to step up and participate.

Collecting signatures is easy

It’s not hard collecting signatures. Standing outside talking to people, asking them to sign, can take as little as one hour to collect 25 signatures. Outside a busy coffee shop in a northern Michigan city last Saturday, it was cold but sunny, and I was able to collect signatures from 30 people in just 1 and a half hours. It’s that easy. And we hear spring is on its way!

We need volunteers to collect more than just a few signatures, because it’s difficult for the team of organizers to take the time to train thousands of people who do only a handful–we’re volunteers too, and time is very limited to get this done.

So please. If you want to see this proposal on the ballot . . . Step up. Sign up. Collect signatures.

There’s no magic bullet, no magical group of people that will swoop in and do it for us.

When you sign up, we’ll teach you how to fill out the sheets property, give you official petitions and a clipboard, mentor you, and get you started.

We’ve come this far. Let’s get all the signatures we need. Don’t assume that others will do it for you.

And Spring events are upon us! Collect signatures at flower sales, craft fairs, sport events, races and runs, food fests, concerts, busy sidewalks, Arbor Day, Earth Day, Mothers Day . . . and more.

This campaign needs you.

Join us and sign up today at www.LetsBanFracking.org

If you cannot physically volunteer to collect signatures, please DONATE to the campaign to hire some individuals and teams to help out the volunteer effort.

Let’s Ban Fracking and protect Michigan from the many harms of fracking. See the campaign brochure here.

 

 

LuAnne Kozma is the campaign director of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, and also the president of the non-profit group, Ban Michigan Fracking. 

Michigan DEQ seeks total control of frack wastewater injection wells

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One of the many injection wells used to dispose of horizontal frack wastes in Michigan, the Slowinski injection well in Kalkaska County. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

One of approximately 887 injection wells used to dispose of oil and gas wastes in Michigan, the Slowinski injection well in Kalkaska County. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

By LuAnne Kozma and Ellis Boal

DEQ’s request to EPA to be in sole charge of the state’s class II injection wells for disposal of oil and gas industry wastes spells danger for Michigan water

We call on EPA to reject DEQ’s application and discontinue permitting of new injection wells in Michigan: Neither DEQ or EPA are credible or capable.

The Flint River depicted in a 1920 post card. The writer of the card says of Flint on the back, "This is a beautiful clean city." Postcard courtesy LuAnne Kozma.

The Flint River depicted in a 1920 post card. The writer of the card says of Flint on the back, “This is a beautiful clean city.” Postcard courtesy LuAnne Kozma.

While the State of Michigan was blowing off the entire community of Flint’s complaints about contaminated water last August,  it was also applying to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to be in complete control over the state’s toxic waste injection wells under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

If EPA approves the State’s application, it would be disastrous for Michiganders and our water resources.

Numerous investigations have publicized the responsibility of both the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA’s Chicago-based Region 5 in the water crisis in Flint, after Flint’s state-appointed emergency manager Darnell Early switched the city’s water source to the Flint River in April 2014.

The Flint river has suffered from decades of industrial pollution. The water has high levels of chlorides (thought to be partly the result of road salt), making it highly corrosive, and which resulted in eating up the pipes and the leaching of lead into the public water supply. See www.flintwaterstudy.org and ACLU of Michigan video “Circle of Lies.”

On February 9  the state attorney general announced an investigation into possible criminal acts including manslaughter charges against a range of Michigan public officials.  Two in the cross-hairs will be Governor Rick Snyder and the former DEQ director Dan Wyant. Targeted also could be EPA officials in Chicago, including Region 5’s former director Susan Hedman.

Both Wyant and Hedman have resigned in disgrace over failure to enforce provisions of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and for their roles in the #FlintWaterCrisis. They and other key players including Gov. Snyder will soon testify before Congress.

DEQ is asking for sole power over Michigan injection wells under the Safe Drinking Water Act

Diagram of an underground injection well for oil and gas industry wastes. EPA illustration, in the public domain.

Diagram of the two types of underground injection well for oil and gas industry wastes. EPA illustration, in the public domain.

Michigan DEQ drafted a plan in 2014 to acquire even more power over safe drinking water enforcement. In this case the subject was “class II” injection wells, wells drilled into the earth where gas and oil industry toxic liquid wastes are put down into geologic formations.  Not actually containers, these porous formations are the resting place for some of the nation’s worst toxic wastes. Old oil and gas wells are sometimes pressed into service as disposal wells. The wastes going underground include the chemical stew of the fracturing or acidizing fluids shot down into oil and gas wells combined with additional, salty and sometimes radioactive liquids and chemicals already below ground that all return to the surface during oil and gas extraction. They are massive in volume.

Currently both Michigan DEQ and EPA have to sign off on a new “class II” injection well permit. Now DEQ is seeking what is called “primacy.” This means, DEQ would have sole power and authority over all decision making and enforcing of federal laws regarding injection wells with little EPA oversight.

In November 2014 DEQ circulated a “briefing report” boasting that:

There are about 1286 class II wells in Michigan. … The State of Michigan is well equipped for Class II … primacy, understanding state specific geography, geology, cultural, climactic [sic], social, and economic issues. … The State of Michigan’s record of accomplishment for excellent environmental protection and regulation for Class II injection will continue under the delegated authority, and the DEQ will continue to provide good customer service to the regulated community and public.

Misspelling of “climatic” would be merely amusing if the consequences were not so serious. And the reference to “good customer service” angers a lot of Michigan residents who want governmental protection of water resources because we live here and drink the water, not because we are paying “customers.”

From EPA website 1/11/14.

From EPA website 1/11/14.

Of the 1286 class II wells, 887 of them are for disposal, and others are for enhanced oil recovery.

 

Structurally, there is no difference between a disposal well and a gas or oil well.

 

 

 

 

DEQ held “public meeting,” turned it into an on-the-spot (illegal) “public hearing” and then lied about it to EPA

DEQ then announced a “public meeting” would be held on December 9, 2014, to discuss the plan. Whether public comment would be allowed there was ambiguous, in the announcement.

When the “public meeting” started, DEQ announced to everyone’s surprise that it would hold a “public hearing” first. The two are very different, particularly in the legal requirement that a “public hearing” have advance public notice and that a formal record be made.

So this “public hearing” was secret. With no advance notice for a  hearing, fewer than a dozen people attended, and only two provided comments in person. Ban Michigan Fracking attended and made comments.  [See: bmfCommentOnDeqInjectionPrimacy.]

Later we filed a formal objection to DEQ assuming primacy in injection well regulation. We argued there had been no proper public hearing, Michigan and EPA have different definitions of “injection well,” and DEQ had advanced no reason it should have primacy other than that it wanted the power.

DEQ pitches the primacy plan to EPA while the two agencies cover up the Flint lead levels

But the water in Flint had turned brown and poisonous and for months people had been  documenting numerous health problems. Both EPA and DEQ were hiding EPA regulations manager Miguel Del Toral’s February memo to DEQ and his June report to EPA higher ups about the horrific lead levels he had documented. EPA gagged Toral from speaking with anyone and did nothing to alert the public. DEQ spokesperson Brad Wurfel called Del Toral a “rogue employee” and tried to explain:

“Let me start here – anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax. … It does not look like there is any broad problem with the water supply freeing up lead as it goes to homes.”

Amid all of this dual-agency denial, and with no publicity DEQ submitted a draft primacy application for injection wells to EPA Region 5 last August.

The centerpiece was a “memorandum of agreement” set up for the signatures of Dan Wyant and Susan Hedman. It calls for DEQ and EPA to “maintain a high level of cooperation and coordination … to assure successful and effective administration.” Page 1 of the 383-page package has space for an endorsement letter by Governor Snyder.

A week later Flint citizens submitted 26,000 signatures on petitions asking the city to end its use of the Flint River for drinking water. In September Hurley Children’s Hospital in Flint published a study documenting the increased lead levels in children’s blood. DEQ’s contemptuous answer was: Repeated testing indicated the water tested within acceptable levels.

So DEQ’s record with safe drinking water law is far from “excellent,” and EPA’s complicity in the whole affair is now part of a federal investigation. Michigan DEQ has no business asking for primacy over injection wells and asserting the agency has a stellar record protecting Michigan people under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

One problem with injection wells is they leak

As ProPublica’s 2012 series of investigative reports on the nation’s underground injection wells revealed, there is the growing problem of leaking. The assumption that these toxic materials will remain safely entombed underground forever is mistaken. In “Injection Wells: The Poison Beneath Us,” former EPA technical expert Mario Salazar remarked that “In 10 to 100 years we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted… A lot of people are going to get sick, and a lot of people may die.” Salazar worked with EPA’s underground injection well program in Washington for 25 years.

Cornell’s Dr. Anthony Ingraffea’s work in studying well casing failures shows that there is a big problem with all well structures–the cement and steel casing barriers between the drilled frack well or injection well and our aquifers. About 5% fail right after drilling, more fail later and eventually most will fail. A former industry insider Ingraffea says, “loss of well bore integrity [is] a well-understood and chronic problem.”

Jessica Ernst’s work, A Brief Review of Threats to Canada’s Groundwater from the Oil and Gas Industry’s Methane Migration and Hydraulic Fracturing, details hundreds of studies, reports, and other evidence of widespread well failure and water contamination in Canada and the U.S.

Compounding the issue of leaking casings is that with increased fracking activity creating more wells creating more and more fractures underground, and generating more wastes leading to even more injection wells poking more holes in the ground, there is more pressure on all the wells’ cement. Ingraffea commented to Ernst that industry is speeding up the cement degradation process “that used to take decades” and now takes only years. (See Slickwater: Fracking and One Insider’s Stand Against the World’s Most Powerful Industry, by Andrew Nikiforuk, p. 245)

A 2014 US Government Accountability Office report criticized the EPA for failing to adequately oversee injection wells. One criticism is that the EPA has not consistently inspected  state programs to ensure that state regulators comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act and EPA guidelines. And back in 1989, another GAO report, Drinking Water: Safeguards are Not Preventing Contamination from Injected Oil and Gas Wells, said that most of the contaminated aquifers could not be reclaimed because fixing the damage was ‘too costly’ or ‘technically infeasible.’ The report also noted “water contamination was not discovered, for the most part, until water supplies became too salty to drink or crops were ruined.”

Injection well hearings

Injection wells proposed for Michigan townships over the past few years have been met with intense public outcry. When “enough” people request a public hearing of the EPA, they hold one. While EPA is predisposed to permit an application if it meets all criteria, in some instances, when a community rises up and makes a show of force at a public hearing, and other political pressure comes to bear, communities can defeat an injection well in their area, but it’s tough going.

In Fork Township in Mecosta County, the EPA held a hearing in late January. About 200 people showed up at a local high school. Fifty people spoke, all in opposition to the well. This well is pending and the community continues organizing to oppose it.

In White Lake Township in Oakland County, residents rose up in opposition in late 2014 to a proposed injection well by Jordan Development. After residents inundated the township offices with calls, the company backed down prior to an EPA hearing being held and withdrew their application. Without a local notice of the pending EPA hearing, residents would never have known to complain at all.

In Summerfield Township in Monroe County, a similar story played out. Residents packed an EPA hearing in the local school auditorium in May 2015 and spoke out in opposition to a planned injection well by Trendwell Energy. The karst topography of the area played a role in providing a substantive reason for not putting an injection well there. After sustained opposition and public pressure, as well as pending legislation in Lansing to ban injection wells in karst topography, Trendwell pulled out of the project.

Regarding the DEQ having primacy and how it would have affected the outcome in Summerfield Township, township supervisor John Chandler says

“We need the EPA or another set of eyes for sure. The state rubber stamps these projects. The EPA hearing set the stage for us and put the oil company on notice. I believe it was the last trip to Lansing in December that really ‘drove it home’ when we testified to the House [on the bill.]”

Monroe County is now considering a county-wide ban on injection wells.

In Michigan DEQ’s hands, most injection wells would be approved

If Michigan were granted primacy by EPA, the DEQ would be able to hold hearings, but it would be up to Hal Fitch, assistant supervisor of wells to determine whether there was adequate public interest to hold such a hearing.

And because DEQ must follow the state law to “foster the development” of the oil and gas industry), approvals on injection wells would go industry’s way. And DEQ would be the final word. Public hearings would be a sham.

This part of the state law (MCL 324.61502) is being challenged by Michigan voters by ballot initiative. See the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan’s brochure at: www.letsbanfracking.org. The campaign continues with signature-gathering through June 1, 2016. (The Committee’s leadership includes the two of us).

Gas storage

Other evidence of DEQ’s lax well enforcement has now emerged, uncovered in a report last month by Michigan Environmental Council.

Gas storage wells in Michigan are of the same type as the one that spewed enormous quantities of greenhouse-gas methane in the affluent Porter Ranch neighborhood of Los Angeles for four months this winter.

Michigan has more active storage fields than any state, and even more are coming. Some aging wells and pipes haven’t been replaced since the 1940s. Odorant is not added to gas in the Michigan fields, making it hard to detect leaks. A disaster involving thousands of evacuations like that at Porter Ranch could happen here, according to an expert quoted by MEC.

MEC interviewed Hal Fitch about this.  Fitch is DEQ’s assistant supervisor of wells and directs the Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals.  He served for many years under the supervisor of wells, DEQ director Wyant.  The timing isn’t clear, but it appears the interview was just before or after his boss Dan Wyant quit.

Saying at first that gas storage standards are “strict” and “comprehensive,” Fitch then admitted inspections are infrequent, and DEQ standards really are not very good:

Those inspection reports contain “not a lot of detail, frankly,” he said. “With what’s going on in California, we’re looking at our process ourselves, to see if there’s some improvements we can make,” Fitch said. “[Storage wells] don’t get as many inspections as an oil well or a brine injection well. But we’re looking now if we should have more complete records. We’re getting good compliance as far as what’s required, but we’re evaluating whether that’s really sufficient.”

The federal safe drinking water act includes only liquid storage, not gas storage, under “class II” injection wells. Today DEQ has exclusive authority over gas storage, so the primacy application will not affect that. Even so, Fitch’s admission belies the DEQ claim it has an “excellent” underground environmental record.

DEQ misled EPA about “public hearing” and didn’t provide the public comments it did get

It was only last month that we learned DEQ had finally submitted the draft application to EPA Region 5 in August 2015. We obtained a copy and uploaded it to our site so anyone can review it.

We were surprised to see that DEQ made no mention of our organization’s comments and those of another citizen commenter. The DEQ asserted a “public hearing” had been held, without saying it had publicly billed it as a “public meeting.”

On January 29 we wrote Region 5 director Hedman complaining of the omission, and asserting our objection should be made part of the EPA record.

That was her last full day on the job.

The letter added two additional reasons Region 5 should deny DEQ’s application for primacy, given its mishandling of the Flint water crisis and its lax regulation of gas storage wells.

The injection well in Grand Traverse County where several deep frack well waste is taken for disposal, Weber 4-4. Photo by Ellis Boal. January 2012.

The injection well in Grand Traverse County where frack well waste from several wells is taken for disposal, Weber 4-4. Photo by Ellis Boal. January 2012.

So who should issue injection well permits?

The request exposed a glaring problem: If DEQ is denied primacy then EPA Region 5 continues in command. But Region 5’s handling of what happened in Flint is just as outrageous as DEQ’s.

Citing the widely-reported history, our letter to Hedman noted that Region 5 had memos in its hands about Flint’s water in February, April, and June of 2015. Despite danger to children, the Region 5 office sounded no alarms. Hedman claimed at first that EPA had no power to act, saying only the state could. But in fact under the federal law, the EPA had oversight responsibility and emergency powers to intervene. Soon top DEQ officials began resigning. A month later Hedman herself announced she would quit. Finally EPA issued an emergency order and is running the show but not from the Region 5 office in Chicago. It’s being handled in DC.

So who should be regulating Michigan’s “class II” injection wells for frack and oil/gas drilling wastes? We told Hedman: Injection permitting “should end throughout Michigan and all the states of Region 5.”

In addition to Michigan, Region 5 includes Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.

DEQ should withdraw the primacy application.  But if it persists with a formal application and Region 5 gives the expected preliminary green light, a public hearing will be announced — presumably a real one this time — for later this year.

Is the purpose for Michigan DEQ having “primacy” to increase the amount of waste being dumped in Michigan?

It seems so.  Injection well programs take place in 32 states, with the majority of wells around the Great Lakes and in places where gas and oil is produced like the Gulf Coast, California and Texas. Ohio is a state that has primacy for injection wells, with no EPA oversight. Injection wells there are multiplying. People in Ohio have been alarmed that they have been targeted as a regional center for toxic frack wastes from out of state as well as from the numerous frack wells within the state. According to a 2015 report by Earthworks that looked at the failures of oil and gas waste practices in four states–New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia–the two states with primacy (Ohio and WV) had the most injection wells, with about 200 and 60 respectively, while New York had only 6, and Pennsylvania 10.

In contrast, Michigan leads them all with approximately 887 disposal wells. With primacy, Michigan will become even more loaded up with class II injection wells and their deadly load.

A new injection disposal well  for Redding Township (Clare County) was applied for today.


See also:

The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan ballot campaign that would ban wastes from horizontal well bores using fracturing or acidizing: www.LetsBanFracking.org

America’s dirtiest secret: how billions of barrels of toxic oil and gas waste are falling through regulatory cracks, by Jefferson Dodge and Joel Dyer, Boulder Weekly, March 13, 2014.

Fracking wastewater is big business in Ohio, by Kathiann M. Kowalski, Midwest Energy News, July 18, 2014.

Injection wells: the poison beneath us, by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica, June 12, 2012. (And see the entire series of ProPublica investigations on injection wells.)

No time to waste: effective management of oil and gas radioactive waste, (no time to waste-2), Western Organization of Resource Councils, 2015.

Wasting away: four states’ failure to manage gas and oil field waste from the Marcellus and Utica Shale,  by Nadia Steinzor and Bruce Baizel, Earthworks, April 2015.

*NOTE that some of these reports propose regulatory solutions. Ban Michigan Fracking’s position is instead on a BAN: that these wastes must end and the processes that produce them must cease. Fracking and injection wells can’t really be “made better” because the fixes do not prevent harm.

The Flint water connection to fracking

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The Karegnondi pipeline running from Flint to Lake Huron might be a conduit to forcing more residents off of groundwater wells that will be affected by fracking, and onto the Karegnondi water system. Photo from Karegnondi.org

by LuAnne Kozma

People have been contacting us about the possibility that one reason for Flint’s plans for a new pipeline for water from Lake Huron through the recently formed Karegnondi Water Authority, is to provide water to the frack industry. This first came up in a blogpost “Could the Flint water crisis have its origins in a desire to open up new areas of Michigan to fracking?” and it’s been repeated in other reporting, such as Motor City Muckraker and Eclectablog.

The more likely connection: free groundwater for the frackers, Karegnondi water at a price for everyone else

UnknownA connection is there, but unless new evidence turns up, it’s not that the new Karegnondi pipeline necessarily would provide water directly to the frack industry. Instead, the likely scenario is that as the gas and oil industry drills and/or fracks in the Genesee, Lapeer, Sanilac, and St. Clair county areas along the pipeline’s routes, residential water wells will go bad and become contaminated, forcing residents to tie in (buy in) to the new Karegnondi water system, making them rate-paying water customers.

Monetizing water for people who currently get their water from groundwater wells is perhaps part of the business plan behind Karegnondi. Michigan has more private groundwater drinking wells providing water to residents and municipalities than any other state. The more the frackers can have access to that water, pushing more and more people off the groundwater supply and onto privatized or monetized sources, the better for the oil and gas industry, and the much worse for the public.

Download the Karegnondi pipeline map pdf.

The state’s role in oil and gas development 

Most people think the DEQ “does its job” by protecting human health and the environment, and resources like water, above all else. Not so with oil and gas. The Oil, Gas and Minerals Division of the DEQ is in charge of oil and gas development in the state, and issues permits for frack wells. Michigan DEQ is required by state law to

“foster the development of the [gas and oil] industry along the most favorable conditions, with a view to the ultimate recovery of the maximum production of these natural products.” (MCL 324.61502)

“Drill, baby, drill” is written right into the law. This must change. It’s been there since 1939. The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan has written a ballot initiative to change this statute, ban fracking and frack wastes, and ban acidizing in horizontal well bores.

The state has a deeper, darker “role”: It also makes money from the production of oil and gas. In effect, the state is a business partner with the oil and gas industry, even though, it’s supposed to be regulating it. In this case, “regulating” means giving them every opportunity to extract fossil fuels and make a profit.

It’s more insidious than that. Much like the lead industry waged a campaign to outfit the nation’s infrastructure with their deadly lead pipes (see: The Lead Industry and Lead Water Pipes: A “Modest Campaign”) we see these same devices being used today by the oil and gas industry to install their deadly infrastructure of natural gas plants, frack wells, compressor stations, toxic injection wells, and pipelines.

And the DEQ is right there with industry, promoting it, and mouthing the same propaganda. Brad Wurfel, the disgraced former DEQ spokesperson who recently resigned for his despicable role in the #FlintWaterCrisis (and who said “anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax”) has repeated frack industry talking points like “new fracking technology is a potential game changer for this country.” He also said: “The state’s regulatory program is regarded nationally as one of the toughest — a safe, effective way to allow domestic energy production while protecting the land, air and water.” An interview by the Rockford Squire with DEQ’s Wurfel reads like an ANGA (American Natural Gas Association) commercial, while putting down residents sounding the alarm about the harms of fracking.

Fracking and drilling planned for Genesee, Lapeer, Sanilac, and St. Clair Counties

There are plans for fracking and other drilling activity in Genesee, Lapeer, Sanilac, and St. Clair counties. There are already four “high volume, hydraulically fractured,” frack wells (those using over 100,000 gallons of water per well) in Sanilac County: the Schultz, Walker, State Wheatland & Reinelt, and Van Damme wells, all targeting the A-1 Carbonate formation.  (See current map of DEQ wells).

The State auctioned off state-owned mineral rights to acres throughout the area, with 200 acres auctioned in Genesee county near Holloway Regional Park.  In 2013 land men from Western Land Services combed the area meeting with landowners, buying their mineral rights. Local residents organized in opposition, with Oregon and Richfield Townships in Lapeer County passing resolutions against fracking. And large gas storage fields (like the Porter Ranch, California storage well that is leaking massive amounts of methane) are located in St. Clair County.

The frackers sometimes do purchase municipal water

It’s possible that municipal water from Karegnondi could be used in the future for fracking. The frackers have certainly purchased water from municipalities in the past when groundwater supplies became scare or insufficient. With the Westerman frack well in Kalkaska County the frackers ran out of groundwater, bought public water from the nearby municipality, and when that wasn’t enough for the frack job, resorted to drilling 8 more water wells on site.

The city of Saline, in Washtenaw County, was selling municipal water for oil and gas drilling in 2012 until residents rose up and stopped it, and the city imposed a moratorium on further water sales. As Saline resident and business owner Mitch Rohde, opposing the use of municipal water for drilling, said at the time,

“I can say that my company is here to stay, and isn’t here to suck non-renewal resources out of the ground, profit, and in a locust-like manner move on, leaving a path of industrialization, potential contaminant, property devaluation and other issues while lining up the next small town to feed on.”

The frack industry uses ground water for free. A lot of it.

Water well drilled on the site of the Mancelona 1-28 HD1 horizontal frack well, on state forest land. The frackers use public groundwater for free.

Water well drilled on the site of the Mancelona 1-28 HD1 horizontal frack well, on state forest land. The frackers use public groundwater for free. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

Generally, though, the frack industry uses ground water from temporary water wells they drill on the site of the well pad (see above photo). If the frack well is on state land, that means the frackers use this publicly-owned resource for free, and use as much as they want. The hokey, much criticized “water withdrawal assessment tool” (WWAT) is used by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality as a guise to make it appear they’ve considered the quantity of water being removed from the ground. In fact, it does no such thing, records no cumulative records of how much water is removed from the aquifers below, and studies no impacts.

And when a frack well applicant fails the WWAT, the DEQ staff simply visit the site, and then rubber stamp the approval anyway. One well, which failed the WWAT, used over 21 million gallons of water. (See: Michigan’s 21 Million Gallon Frack Job and Michigan Gas Wells Surpassing All Water Records,  Governor-approved Frack Panel Unconcerned).

The frack industry, if it does all the drilling it wants to, will thirst after Michigan water. One estimate from 2013 was if Encana (now sold to Marathon) drilled the 500 wells they projected, the company would use and destroy 4 billion gallons of groundwater, about what Traverse City uses in two years.

The DEQ keeps this list of the water amounts used by the industry’s recent “high volume hydraulically fractured” wells.

The millions of gallons of fresh water used for fracking are no longer “water” after it is combined with millions of gallons of chemicals, many of them neurotoxins and cancer-causing. These millions of gallons are permanently taken from the water cycle. To frack, the toxic cocktail is injected underground using extreme pressure to break up the rock formation (or in the case of acidizing, dissolve the rock). What comes back out of the well is even worse, and usually radioactive. These liquid wastes (the industry and DEQ like to call this toxic waste “flowback” and “produced water”) are then put into injection wells and again re-injected deep into the earth’s formations, to be buried supposedly forever. But well casings fail, as researchers and industry itself have studied, allowing these toxins to enter and poison aquifers. (See ProPublica’s reporting “Injection Wells: The Poison Beneath Us.”)

Governor Rick Snyder says “in Michigan we do fracking right”

Governor Snyder said in a televised debate, “in Michigan we do fracking right” and “we work with industry….” And now you know why the DEQ works with industry to contaminate Michigan with toxic chemicals, toxified water, and frack wastes from other states. With the world now watching Michigan’s governor, his emergency manager-based autocracy, his words and actions in the #FlintWaterCrisis, the Detroit Public School takeover, and the frack industry invasion, Michiganders and others are now seeing through this flim flam.

For more information about the harms of fracking and the ballot initiative to ban fracking and frack wastes statewide, see the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan’s brochure. The Committee is collecting signatures before June 1 to get the ban on fracking and frack wastes on the ballot this November.

Stop the Drilling in Southfield: Residents form group, plan protest

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Residents in Southfield and the metro Detroit area have organized to oppose a new drilling application to drill for oil in this Michigan city of over 70,000 people. “Stop the Drilling in Southfield” plans a protest at the drilling site Sunday, January 17 at 9 am. Word of Faith, a “mega church,” owns the property and has leased out its minerals to Jordan Development. The site is at Nine Mile and Evergreen, a densely populated area, only 2 miles from Providence Hospital.

Residents speak out on CBS/WWJ (see video): http://cbsloc.al/1Q2gNf2?anvt=111

The City of Southfield issued a moratorium on all drilling in the city and and it remains in effect through April 28, 2016. See the city’s press release: City of Southfield Oil drilling moratorium.

THE HARMS OF ACIDIZING
Though the company and church claim there will be no fracking, they propose to vertically acidize in the Niagaran formation, which has been horizontally fracked with multiple horizontal bores in Montmorency County (See the Hubbell 2-22 HD1 and Hubbell 2-22 HD2 well). There is no guarantee that this proposed well wouldn’t be used with multiple wellheads and eventually with horizontal well bores.

Acidizing the well uses tons of hydrochloric acid and other chemicals, injected deep underground. Some of the acidizing mixture is then brought back up to the surface, requiring disposal in yet other “injection” wells. The whole process creates millions of gallons of toxic wastes, both liquid and solid, and into the air. Acidizing is terribly polluting and harmful to people’s health and the environment. See this report of the harms of acidizing in populated areas of Los Angeles, California here: “Air Toxics One-Year Report: Oil Companies Used Millions of Pounds of Air-Polluting Chemicals in Los Angeles Basin Neighborhoods.”

Methane would be flared (burned) into the atmosphere. This, too, will pollute the air and harm residents.

COMMENTS TO DEQ NEEDED BY JANUARY 18

We join them in urging Michiganders to write to the DEQ by January 18, 2016 to deny the permit and demand a public hearing. The DEQ says 30 people have written in opposition. The application is A150095. Download the application here: Word of Faith 16-27 Application-2

Write to: DEQ-oilandgaspermitapplication@michigan.gov

Many groups and residents are sending in comments to the DEQ in opposition:

City of Southfield’s resolution against drilling: ResolutionAgainstDrillingandPermit-2

Ban Michigan Fracking’s comments: Kozma to Snow DEQ 1.4.16

Rep. Moss Information and Public Hearing Request

NEW GROUP, “STOP THE DRILLING IN SOUTHFIELD” PLANS PROTEST  THIS SUNDAY, JANUARY 17 at 9 am OUTSIDE WORD OF FAITH CHURCH

To join the protest, meet at 9 am at the NW corner of 9 Mile Road and Evergreen in Southfield. Bring protest signs. Download the groups flyer here: Stop the Drilling in Southfield – final PDF (2).

To reach the group, email stopthedrillinginSouthfield AT gmail.com

They are also on Facebook at Stop the Drilling in Southfield

CBS News covered the story, with Southfield residents Larry Quarles and Skip Davis of  Stop the Driling in Southfield explaining why the proposed well will be harmful to Southfield residents:  “Southfield Residents Speak Out Against Mega Church Plan to Drill for Oil.”

Marathon’s well near Grayling: a ‘test’ or a ‘nightmare’?

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by Ellis Boal

Chance discovery

One day in August I drove to Crawford County to take a look at Marathon Oil’s recent activities along King Road in Beaver Creek Township, which is near Grayling.

State Beaver Creek 1-23 HD1, a horizontal frack well in the state forest, has been producing on a pad there, tapping the nearly-two-mile-deep Utica-Collingwood shale for some time.

State Beaver Creek 1-23 HD1, on August 15. Photo: Ellis Boal

In late July Marathon applied for a second horizontal frack well on the same pad, named State Beaver Creek 1-14 HD1, which would explore into the Detroit River formation, about a mile shallower than the Utica-Collingwood.

This is the first high-volume frack well to explore in this formation in Michigan.

Not much was happening that day on the pad. But previously I had noticed an unusual feature on the plat accompanying the application for the new well, a half-mile away. It was labeled “State Beaver Creek D4-11″. The nomenclature is not typical for Michigan wells and no operator name was given. I thought it might be a processing facility of some kind.

D4-11

D4-11, still a forest on August 15. Photo: Ellis Boal. Click for close-up.

I didn’t see a direct two-track through the forest between the wellpad and D4-11, so I drove around and found an old one leading to the spot where it was supposed to be. There was nothing but trees, and a few scattered stakes and flags. No permit was posted. Nothing indicated that something big was about to happen.

A week later, in a quick turnaround time DEQ issued the permit for State Beaver Creek 1-14 HD1.

In September I inquired of DEQ what was going on with D4-11. On September 18 DEQ tech Kelley Nelson wrote that it is a well, not a processing facility. It was regulated under part 625 of the Michigan environmental law. Therefore, she said, it was a totally confidential operation. I asked if that meant the permit number, and even the fact whether the well was permitted, were unavailable. She answered:

You are correct. Nothing is available for any part 625 test well. It is confidential for 10 years.

Well, “nothing” was not really the whole truth. Part 625 regulations required Marathon to send the first page of its application to Beaver Creek Township, “post the permit in a conspicuous place” at the surface location until drilling is completed, and post a “conspicuous” sign near the wellhead showing the permit number.

D4-11, a/k/a the “science well,” under construction on August 26. Photo: Gary Cooley.

Obtained publicly from the township, the first page of the application tells us: Marathon posted a conformance bond of $33,000, the well is vertical, sour gas is expected, the intended total depth is 4700 feet, and the target formation is the Amherstburg. This is a fossil-bearing non-shale formation in the Detroit River group, the same formation being explored by State Beaver Creek 1-14 HD1. Vertically, D4-11 is just 300 feet deeper.

Marathon refers to D4-11 informally as a “science well.”

I visited again on September 20. This time there was a nearly-200-foot drill rig there, operating with a loud hum. The rig name, Ensign 161, was prominent on the side.

I was wearing my letsbanfracking t-shirt. Three workers came out. I identified myself and we chatted. They were from out of state. I asked who was the supervisor. They didn’t know, they said.

Later toward midnight I drove by again, this time staying on King Road. Through 100+ yards of trees I could hear the hum. Over the tree line I could see lights on the rig.

D4-11, operating on September 22. Photo: Gary Cooley

Two days later Gary Cooley, who has a home a little over a mile from D4-11, visited and took pictures of the rig in operation.

FOIA request

On September 22, I sent DEQ a formal FOIA request asking for all its documents on the facility. DEQ denied it on October 1, citing section 8 and section 9 of part 625.

But section 9 only says that the application and permit are “confidential in the same manner as provided for logs and reports on these wells.” Section 8 says “Logs on brine and test wells shall be held confidential for 10 years after completion.” It adds that “logs” — but not “reports” — can be held confidential even longer, forever.

Marathon’s application, permit, and pre-drilling correspondence with DEQ are not “logs.” So according to these sections, they were not confidential until the well was “completed.” And according to part 625 rules, completion was not until the well reached its “permitted depth or the [DEQ] has determined drilling has ceased.” Obviously, D4-11 was not complete on September 20 or 22. Ensign 161 was still there, and working.

So DEQ should have produced the application, permit, and all records other than logs.

Exploring for gas and oil

On October 2 I visited again. A different worker came out to say hello. He said his name was “Trace” and he was the Marathon safety man. Asked how long the rig would be there, he didn’t know and said they were hoping to find gas or oil. He gave the card of his boss in Houston, in case there were further questions.

A brief internet search showed that earlier this year Ensign 161 was active at Marathon wells in three different counties of western North Dakota. Fracking for oil there is big business.

Trace’s information, Ensign 161’s design and history in frack country, and D4-11’s exploration in the Detroit River group all mean there is a second reason the well information is not confidential. By its title, part 625 only regulates “mineral” wells. Mineral wells include so-called “test wells.” A test well determines the presence of a “mineral, mineral resource, ore, or rock unit,” or obtains data related to “mineral exploration or extraction.” Exploratory test wells look for “an orebody or mineable mineral resource.”

Oil and gas are not “minerals”

Part 625 does not define “mineral.” But in ordinary English minerals are understood to be hard, crystalline, and inorganic. They are extracted by mining.

Gas and oil are extracted by drilling. They are not in DEQ’s list of Michigan minerals. There are no minerals of any kind in Crawford County, according to the list. Anyway, the idea of looking for a mineral in a 4700-foot hole is ridiculous.

Cooley’s nightmare. Photo: LuAnne Kozma. Click for close-up.

Rules under part 625 say if a mineral well encounters oil or gas of any value, the operator has to stop and apply for a separate permit under part 615. This is the part of the law that covers exploration for gas and oil. Part 615 part makes no mention of targeting minerals. It specifically does not apply to “mine and quarry drill and blast holes.”

Part 615, not part 625, was the part under which DEQ granted the “exploratory” permit given for State Beaver Creek 1-14 HD1. As an exploration well for gas and oil, D4-11 should have been permitted if at all under part 615, not part 625.

Whats’ the difference? A big one is that confidentiality under part 615 is quite limited. Logs and other data are confidential only for 90 days after completion and then only if the operator requests confidentiality. All other documents, including applications, permits, and pre-drilling correspondence, are routinely made public to me or anyone else at any time. The same is true of logging and production data after the 90 days has passed, or even before 90 days if the operator did not request confidentiality.

Another difference is that part 625 has no rules prohibiting nuisance noise. Part 615 does.

What will D4-11 do to the countryside?

Part 625 rules allow for horizontal mineral wells, though fortunately this well is vertical. The rules also allow for acidizing, perforating, and fracturing.

As mentioned, so far only the first page of Marathon’s application for D4-11 has been made public. Applications typically run to 50 or 100 pages. The full application had to include an environmental impact assessment.

DEQ’s form for that required Marathon to identify distances to nearby water wells and other human-made features, and wetlands, surface waters, and endangered species. Marathon should have stated if high-volume fracking will be done in which case it should have specified the water volumes and a water assessment, and identified at least some of the chemicals. It should have explained how muds, cuttings, pit fluids, and brines would be disposed. It should have given details about any flowline or other facilities on the pad, and explained how it would deal with soil erosion and sedimentation.

Cooley and Ban Michigan Fracking are appealing DEQ’s refusal of D4-11 information except for the logs. Ninety days after completion the logs will be requested too. A monster operation like this is a matter of public concern. People birding, hunting, or snowmobiling in the forest are entitled to know what DEQ knows, including the environmental effects and everything else.

Separately, On October 8 I wrote the Marathon boss asking him to confirm Trace’s statement that D4-11 was looking for gas and oil, and provide a copy of the “application [and] permit.” A week later a PR flack wrote back confirming a permit was issued but refusing to send any documents.

D4-11, October 16. Photo: LuAnne Kozma.

Lighting the heavens

LuAnne Kozma (the director of Ban Michigan Fracking and the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan) and I visited the site again on October 6, at twilight. Ensign 161 was lit up. She recorded the sounds and pictures in the video above.

On October 16 we visited the last time. Drilling was complete. The pad was quiet and empty, a gash in the forest with a blowout preventer at the center. No sign displayed the permit number, “conspicuously” or at all.

Ensign 161 had moved a half-mile to the pad of 1-14. It was drilling there in the same Detroit River formation.

The rig is expected back at D4-11 soon, after Marathon runs the numbers. It cost millions to cut the trees, excavate the pad, and bring in the rig. The company won’t want to walk away empty-handed. And next time the bore would not just be vertical. It could be aimed right at Cooley, his nightmare.


Protest frack waste expansion in Detroit

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Protest Against Radioactive Fracking Waste

Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan volunteers, Ban Michigan Fracking, Metro Detroiters for Bernie, and residents in the nearby community from Hamtramck and Detroit around the Detroit US Ecology hazardous waste facility gathered for a protest October 3. Photo: Jim West.

By LuAnne Kozma

Forty-five activists and community members gathered on October 3, 2015 at the US Ecology hazardous waste facility in Detroit to protest expansion of the facility. They included nearby residents from Detroit and Hamtramck, retirees, nurses, professors, lawyers, students, engineers, photographers, teachers, former and current city workers, a Detroit school board member, and retired postal workers.

In addition to Ban Michigan Fracking, the groups Beyond Nuclear, Don’t Waste Michigan, Metro Detroiters for Bernie, Carrie Rogge Block Club, Great Lakes Water Protection Committee, Detroit Workers Voice, and Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, joined members of a local mosque and volunteers of Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan from around the state.

Protest Against Radioactive Fracking Waste

Photo by Jim West.

The Detroit facility, which processes frack wastes, has applied to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to expand its operations tenfold.

Ban Michigan Fracking has reported on the amount of frack waste coming to Detroit from Pennsylvania for many months (*see below). The Detroit Free Press reported on the expansion on September 11, and the DEQ’s public comment deadline the next day, Saturday, September 12.  BMF wrote public comments to the DEQ, demanding an extension of the public comment period, demanding that DEQ deny the permit, and discussing the harms of radioactive frack wastes and TENORM.

We Demand a Public Hearing by DEQ

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Nearby residents concerned about the frack waste expansion and harm to families. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

The DEQ granted the extension of the public comment period to October 12, but no public hearing has been planned. BMF encourages people to write DEQ and demand a public hearing. The nearby community and all Michigan residents deserve to be heard. Write comments to: Richard Conforti, MDEQ, at confortir@michigan.gov or by mail c/o DEQ, P.O. Box 30241, Lansing, Michigan, 48909-7741.

US Ecology admits liquid wastes are going into the Detroit sewer system; Michigan DEQ denies it

The Detroit Free Press reported on September 11:

In an e-mailed response to Free Press inquiries, US Ecology spokesman David Crumrine said there have been no adverse environmental impacts during the 40 years the plant has operated. The plant takes hazardous and non-hazardous, solid and liquid wastes from the automotive, steel, plating and other area industries, as well as retail wastes, he said. Waste is treated to remove or stabilize its hazards as required by state and federal regulations, and then shipped for disposal at offsite landfills. Liquids are treated until they are safe to dispose of via the Detroit wastewater treatment plant. [emphasis added]

This was startling news, and what BMF had speculated for some time. The company’s admission was proof that wastewater from processing hazardous wastes at the site — 40% of which comes from out of state — goes directly into the public water and sewerage system.

Why else bring out-of-state frack wastes for processing to Detroit? When liquid wastes that are too hot radioactively to be disposed of here — DEQ’s Ken Yale has told BMF that wastes are solidified in Detroit first and then shipped for disposal at US Ecology facilities in Idaho — are brought here on their way west, there’s got to be a practical reason. Why wouldn’t Pennsylvania’s frack wastes be sent directly from Pennsylvania to Idaho?

DEQ’s Conforti denied that US Ecology is putting wastes into the Detroit Water and Sewerage System, as quoted in the Detroit News:  “Nothing will be released into the water supply — Lake Huron or the Detroit River.”

Other groups, such as the American Human Rights Coalition, based in Dearborn, are also opposed to the expansion.  AHRC is raising community awareness and demanding answers to what impact the expansion would have on the Detroit water system.

Dealing with the contaminated and radioactive waste is getting to be a real problem for the fracking/oil and gas industry. According to industry site Fuel Fix: “EPA to block drillers from sending wastewater to municipal treatment plants“:

“In Pennsylvania, drillers are worried about a double whammy — that EPA will follow up its currently proposed zero-discharge rule for municipal treatment plants with another standard blocking them from sending fluids to centralized facilities too.”

Which could pose a problem for facilities like US Ecology.

Speakers at the Protest

Protest Against Radioactive Fracking Waste

Local resident Ronnie Mixon, who also spoke at the protest. Photo: Jim West.

* Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste watchdog from Beyond Nuclear, gave some background on how harmful radioactivity is to human health.

Elena Herrada, a member of the Detroit School Board told the crowd that the school board passed a resolution that the DEQ deny the permit, in light of harm to Detroit school children.

Dawn DeRose, of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, gave an urgent pitch for volunteers to sign up to get signatures to get the Committee’s ban initiative on the 2016 ballot before the November deadline.

Protest Against Radioactive Fracking Waste

Photo by Jim West.

The signature deadline is in November. The Committee reported in September collecting over 100,000 signatures toward the 252,523 requirement and intends to make it on the ballot. The ballot initiative would ban the processing and storage of frack wastes.

 

 

* In December 2014 we reported on the wastes coming from Pennsylvania to US Ecology in Detroit reported by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection :

Detroit got the worst of it. Over 1,466 tons of “flowback fracturing sand” went to the US Ecology facility at 6520 Georgia Street, near Hamtramck which is the former Dynecol facility. The Marcellus shale frack wastes came from horizontal frack wells in a host of Pennsylvania counties–Butler, Clarion, Clearfield, Fayette, Greene, Indiana and Westmoreland–all in 2011 and 2012, but not reported until 2014. The former Dynecol site, which was a hazardous liquid waste processing facility in operation since 1974 “for the Midwest US and Canadian industrial markets,” is now owned by US Ecology, which bought it in 2012, around the same time the frack wastes were brought to Detroit. The company now carries out a number of hazardous operations with radioactive waste, including, according to the DEQ, processing of radioactive frack wastes which are solidified and then shipped to a facility in Idaho. What parts from that “processing” remain in Detroit? We wish we knew. – See more at: http://banmichiganfracking.org/?m=201412#sthash.qJ2D2iNW.dpuf

Other sources on radioactive wastes and: Rachel Treichler, attorney from New York, has this list of sources, “Materials on Radioactivity in Gas and Gas Drilling Waste.”