Post-Auction Blues as a Ballot Initiative Debuts

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MAY 25, 2012 (originally posted on GRIID.org, re-posted with permission)

This article is written by Maryann Lesert

Protestors, Disruptors, Petitioners unite as the Michigan House of Representatives Natural Gas Subcommittee recommends that the State lease all of our remaining public land – 5.3 million unleased acres – to drastically increase oil and gas extraction. And fracking, as one protestor’s sign attests, “is Good Bye Pure Michigan.”

On May 8, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) offered over 108,000 acres of state land in 23 counties to bidders interested in purchasing 5-year mineral rights leases for oil and gas drilling, including 23,400 acres in Barry County with nearly the entire Yankee Springs Recreation Area (just east of Gun Lake) up for bid.

Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Muskegon, and Kalamazoo residents attended and took part in the protest alongside people from Barry and Oakland counties there to voice their disapproval of the DNR’s offering of well-known recreation areas. Some drummed and chanted as bidders walked into the building to register. Others entered the auction room and stood up during the bidding process to make statements about the wrongness of auctioning off public land, the dangers of injecting known toxins into land, water, and ecosystems, and fracking’s excessive use of water. 

Though state auctions of mineral rights have occurred for decades, Mary Uptigrove of the DNR Mineral Management Division, when asked if the twice-yearly auctions usually drew much public attention, said she had never seen anything like the May 8 protest. “No, nothing like this, and I’ve been here for nine years.” Auctioneer Bob Howe of Sheridan Realty & Auction Co. agreed, noting that two years ago the MDNR had the largest auction ever in terms of money taken in, with a record $178 million for less acreage than the current May 2012 auction, which earned $3.5 million. The difference? Two years ago there was a frenzy of speculation, and our state legislators have obviously been hard at work, paving the way for the“natural gas renaissance [that] is upon us.”

The auctioneer progressed through the first few ‘A’ counties: Alpena, Antrim, and Arenac, rather quickly after some tense moments when over half of us who took seats around the perimeter of the room – 3-4 writers and videographers and about 20-30 members of the public – were forced to vacate our seats. Twenty-five minutes before the auction began, DNR staff claimed there was no room for anyone but registered bidders. I held up my press pass, explaining that I had called to verify that press would be allowed to attend this “open” meeting, but was again told to leave the room due to the 60-person capacity.

Many of us registered as bidders and re-entered the room. Others gathered outside the auction room’s open door (presumably to maintain the meeting’s “open” status) making noise. “But this is wrong,” one woman’s voice projected over the opening bids. “This is supposed to be a public meeting and they’re auctioning off public land. Isn’t there anything we can do to stop this?”

When Barry County came up to bid, protestors who had been in the building’s lobby moved into the walled courtyard outside the lower-level auction room, pounding on makeshift drums, chanting anti-fracking chants, and banging on the windows as the auctioneer prattled on and bidders continued to bid, though alertness levels definitely rose.

Amid continuous chanting and glimpses of protestors and their colorful signs through the windows (before one of the auctioneers pulled the blinds closed), a young man in a suit was the first to stand up. 

Walking to the windows and pulling back the blinds, he said, “What are they doing out there?” calling attention to the protestors.  “Wait,” he said as the one uniformed DNR officer in the room at that point pulled him away. “What are they doing?” As he was escorted out in front of the bidders’ tables, he called out, “What are you doing selling off Yankee Springs?”

A few moments later, a second young man in a dress shirt and tie strode in front of the auctioneer to say, “We don’t believe in the myth of safe fracking. Fracking will poison the water.”

More security came in stages as more protestors entered the room, forced to register as bidders in order to be admitted.  The auctioneer’s auction-calling and the “Ho!” and “Here!” bid acknowledgments from his assistants were accompanied by a steady stream of noise from the protestors outside, who were eventually observed but not interfered with by several Lansing police officers.

Debra Grodan Olson, a Michigan lawyer with strong ties to the Circle Pines Center in Delton registered as a bidder, hoping to save several 40-acre parcels up for bid near Circle Pines, an educational recreation and retreat center focused on peace, social justice, and environmental stewardship. In a late-night letter to Governor Snyder, Olson expressed “concern for the values – ecological, wildlife, water, riparian, property, and community – at stake and threatened by the leasing of mineral rights for state lands, wetlands, creeks, streams, and lakes” all treasured, she noted, “far beyond any return the state might expect from selling lease rights to these lands.” Her auction-day goal, knowing she was unable to save all of Yankee Springs, was to prevent the land and lakes near Circle Pines from being drilled under.

As the parcels within Yankee Springs Recreation Area went up for bid, it was clear that Olson’s presence made a difference. Bidder #124 (bidders were identified by numbered cards) routinely opened the bidding at $30 per acre – above the $12 minimum – and it was clear that he was willing to go up to $375 and $380 per acre whenever Olson or occasionally others cross bid.  In the end, he made an all-out sweep across Yankee Springs as more protestors rose.

One young man jumped up on an auction table, calling out as two DNR Officers approached him. “This theft of public land is a short term fix for the companies that created our energy crisis. The extraction process poisons our water and air. You will not succeed.”

Only one protestor was arrested for disrupting the auction, though his repeated verbal comment: “We’ve got every right to be here,” came in direct response to a bidder from the opposite side of the room who, conversing back and forth with the auctioneer, chuckled through a complaint: “If you keep these guys out of the room, we’ll be fine.”

The tension and excitement of Olson’s cross bidding came to an end as she packed up to leave, and the last few parcels went quietly unopposed at the $12 per acre minimum. All but one or two of two hundred eleven 40-to-160-to-200-acre parcels of Barry County’s public land went to two bidders – Rich Patterson of Meridian Land & Energy and Amos Fowler of Pteradon Energy – most of them for $12 to $30 to $60 per acre.

One of the last protestors to stand up for Barry County, a young woman, walked up the center aisle clapping her hands together in broad strokes as she chanted, “How about that Hal Fitch. How about that Hal Fitch.” I understood and appreciated her reference to MDEQ’s Director of Oil, Gas, and Minerals and her nod to the Department’s lack of protection of public land. But as we left Barry County and the drums subsided and the stand-up disruptions ceased, I gave in to grief.

One of the most beautiful places in the world – to me, anyway, after three years of hiking Yankee Springs’ trails – had fallen to the F-bomb of all F-bombs: Fracking. For three winters I had dedicated my Sundays to watching the snow fall over Deep Lake or drifting silently in the silver-green air of the Pine Grove. I had ushered in each spring with the Long Lake boardwalk where mounds of new soil bulge above the water and sprout with ferns and ivy and tiny new flowers.

No matter how much we cared or researched or hoped to stop public lands from oil and gas development, Yankee Springs and the equally treasured Lake Orion rec area in Oakland county were “won” by the oil and gas industry – along with land just as important to locals in 21 other counties.  It was tempting to believe that none of it – the shouting and the art and the bidders who tried to save the land – did any good. But of course it did.

One hundred people witnessed, made statements, and were escorted out by armed conservation officers. A few of us stayed to the bitter end, watching previously passed-on parcels go up for bid at $6 per acre instead of the first-round minimum of $12 (Talk about grief!).

There was a resurgence that kept us going when Oakland County’s recreation areas came up to bid. The drumming and chanting returned and more protestors rose at key moments. One dark haired young woman stood and said in a quietly penetrating voice: “This is my homeland. You are poisoning the water for our children and grandchildren. For your own children and grand children.” And as she willingly turned toward the door with her officer escort, she said, “Ban fracking now,” and it hung in the air.

Still, our outrage at the future damage to landscapes and ecosystems that comes with the distributed industrialization of fracking did not stop the industrializers from winning. So what next?

We form a people’s movement to ban fracking. We bypass Michigan legislators and the Big Greens – environmental organizations such as The National Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club and the Clean Water Action Council –groups that support frack reform bills which rely on what New York environmental activist and writer Robert Jereski terms “Regulationism: an undue faith in the promise of regulating a noxious processes that distracts from the need to stop it.”

In Michigan, reform bills call for a moratorium, but only within two specific geological layers,  the Utica and Collinwood shale layers; they call for a fracking panel to study the safety of hydraulic fracturing with industry funding and participation (green washing and junk science, anyone?). And in the greatest hypocrisy of regulationism, newly introduced House Bill 5565, touted as the bill that will finally require frackers to disclose the chemicals used in the fracking process (the industry has been exempt from regulation and disclosure of “trade secret” chemicals since 2005), HB 5565 actually devotes 2/3rds of its language to detailing the process the industry will use to continue to keep chemicals secret. (Section 61535 sets up conditions for withholding chemical identities.) What’s worse: the bill requires healthcare providers to sign a confidentiality statement, a “gag” order, before receiving chemical data needed to treat their patients (Section 61537).

And House Bill 5565 is touted as stronger regulation? Thanks, but no thanks. Who needs more regulation when it is clear that regulating the gas and oil industry, and fracking in particular, means more secrecy and exemption. “Safe fracking” is a myth which subjects us, reform bill after reform bill, to what Jereski (regulationism) refers to as “the tyranny of low expectation.”

About that Bypass: Let’s Ban Fracking – A Ballot Initiative to Ban Fracking in Michigan

At the protest on May 8, petitioners introduced the public to a new state-wide ballot initiative to ban horizontal hydraulic fracturing in Michigan. A ballot initiative drafted by the most grass roots of grass roots efforts, a committee of people from around the state who were galvanized by the Michigan DNR’s auction of entire recreation areas and by the Michigan Natural Gas Subcommittee’s recommendation that the State employ all sorts of unconventional oil and gas extraction methods on all remaining public land.

Germany, France, and Bulgaria did it, and so did Vermont, when that state’s legislators passed a ban on fracking on May 4. Now the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan (http://letsbanfracking.org) is hoping that Michigan will be the first to offer the people the chance to decide whether or not we will allow fracking and its industrializing force to spread across the Great Lakes State.

As the Committee’s Press Release states, “petitioners are required to submit 322,609 valid signatures from Michigan voters by July 9 to the Bureau of Elections in order to place the proposed amendment on the ballot in November.”

The petition reads: “A proposal to amend the Constitution by adding a new Section 28 to Article I to read as follows:

To insure the health, safety, and general welfare of the people, no person, corporation, or other entity shall use horizontal hydraulic fracturing in the State. ‘Horizontal hydraulic fracturing’ is defined as the technique of expanding or creating rock fractures leading from directional wellbores, by injecting substances including but not limited to water, fluids, chemicals, and proppants, under pressure, into or under the rock, for purposes of exploration, drilling, completion, or production of oil or natural gas. No person, corporation, or other entity shall accept, dispose of, store, or process, anywhere in the State, any flowback, residual fluids, or drill cuttings used or produced in horizontal hydraulic fracturing.”

To Sign or Circulate the Petition:

To find a location where you can sign the petition (it must be signed in person) or to contact a city, county, or area coordinator, go to the Let’s Ban Fracking website. Click on “Volunteer” to view a list of area coordinators. See “Events” for a list of signing events.

Note: This is not an online petition. Public pressure petitions gather signatures online, often linked to emails from environmental organizations that use strong words such as “Fracking must stop!” Online petitions serve only one purpose. They are sent to legislators to put pressure on them to respond with legislation.  Here in Michigan, where legislators have recommended that all 5.3 million acres of our remaining public land be “used” for oil and gas extraction, public pressure will fall on frack-hungry ears.

Author Bio:

Maryann Lesert is an author and Associate Professor of English at Grand Rapids Community College, researching fracking for an environmental writing project. She belongs to Ban Michigan Fracking (www.banmichiganfracking.org), an educational organization working toward local and statewide bans on hydraulic fracturing.

Hyperlinked Sources:

The U.S. House Energy & Commerce Committee Report, April 2011, “Chemicals Used In Hydraulic Fracturing.” PDF. 14 pgs. See List of 29 Known Carcinogens, Safe Drinking Water Act Contaminants, and Hazardous Air Pollutants, pg. 10.

http://house.michigan.gov/sessiondocs/2011-2012/testimony/Committee6-4-24-2012.pdf

The Michigan House of Representatives Natural Gas Subcommitee Report on Energy and Job Creation, April 2012. PDF. 26  pages. See; Conclusion & Recommendations, pgs. 20-22.

http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Hydraulic%20Fracturing%20Report%204.18.11.pdf

House Bill No. 5565, Introduced by Reps. Brown, Bledsoe, Lipton, Bauer, Tlaib and Byrum, April 24, 2012. A bill to amend 1994 PA 451, entitled “Natural resources and environmental protection act,”(MCL 324.101 to 324.90106) by adding sections 61506d, 61531, 61532, 61533, 61534, 61535, 61536, and 61537.

http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2011-2012/billintroduced/House/pdf/2012-HIB-5565.pdf

Website for the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan.

http://letsbanfracking.org/

Educational Website for Ban Michigan Fracking.

www.banmichiganfracking.org

Devon is striking in Roscommon County: urgent meeting

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In St. Helen Campground Road in Roscommon, Devon Energy has a staked out well within 100 feet of a neighborhood.

Meeting tonight at Roscommon Road Commission

7 p.m.
1772 S Loxley Road (M 55) east of Prudenville
Houghton Lake, MI 48629-9244

 

A reason why we need a ban more than ever. Join in the campaign to amend the state constitution to ban fracking.
See the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan’s website:

www.LetsBanFracking.org

See you in Roscommon!

Join us for the “Truth and Consequences of Fracking”

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Today in Traverse City, and tomorrow in Gaylord, Ban Michigan Fracking is hosting guests Jessica Ernst, of Alberta, Canada, and Kevin Heatley, of Pennsylvania, in presentations about their experiences in places in the world that are heavily fracked and facing devastating  consequences.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Presentations at 7:00 p.m.

 

Join us!

 

Ballot Initiative to amend Michigan’s state constitution to ban fracking begins!

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Ban Michigan Fracking’s aim is to ban fracking statewide. When we realized that the entire Lower Peninsula of Michigan is now targeted to be fracked, members of Ban Michigan Fracking and others formed a Ballot Question Committee, a political entity whose sole purpose is to collect signatures and put a ballot question on the November ballot: A proposed amendment to the state constitution to ban fracking.

The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan launched its campaign this week! (See CBFM press release 5.14.2012, below). The Committee needs to collect 322,609 valid signatures by July 9.

See: www.LetsBanFracking.org to find a coordinator or event near you, to sign a petition or circulate petitions.

The petition, which received approval from the Michigan Board of State Canvassers in April, can ONLY be signed in person, on hard copies provided by the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan. There are no downloadable copies, or xeroxes. Michigan registered voters only.

Please note that Ban Michigan Fracking’s online petition to oppose the frack reform bills is a completely different petition.
* * * * * * * * * * * *

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan

May 14, 2012

CONTACT:

LuAnne Kozma, Campaign Director, 231-944-8750luanne@letsbanfracking.org

Maryann Lesert, maryann@letsbanfracking.org

Ellis Boal, ellis@letsbanfracking.org

Citizen-led Ballot Initiative To Ban Fracking in Michigan Begins

 

CHARLEVOIX, MICH. – A citizen-led ballot initiative to amend the Michigan state constitution to ban horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, statewide began this week. The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, a ballot question committee, received approval of its petition from the Board of State Canvassers. The proposed amendment would also ban the storage of wastes from horizontal hydraulic fracturing, preventing Michigan from becoming a frack wasteland. Michigan has over 1,000 injection wells and over 12,000 conventional gas and oil wells that could be converted for that purpose. The campaign website is: http://letsbanfracking.org/.

Michigan is the only state in the nation where citizens are attempting to ban fracking by amendment to a state constitution. Vermont’s legislature passed a ban on fracking on May 4 and with the governor’s approval, became the first state to ban fracking.

The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan is required to submit 322,609 valid signatures from Michigan voters by July 9 to the Bureau of Elections, in order to place the proposed amendment on the ballot in November.

“Michigan’s constitution invites citizens to amend it,” said Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan’s campaign director LuAnne Kozma, of Novi, and a co-founder of the non-profit public interest group Ban Michigan Fracking. “We chose to form a ballot question committee and amend the constitution because we cannot count on our current elected officials to do the right thing. Proposed ‘frack reform’ bills in Lansing are only attempts to regulate and tolerate fracking and put studies in the hands of State regulators.  New legislation (HB 5565) introduced last week, touted as a disclosure of frack chemicals bill, contains language that forbids physicians treating frack victims from disclosing the chemicals, even to patients. We knew we had to act to stop the toxic invasion about to devastate our state. We will not recognize Michigan in a few years, if we do not ban fracking,” said Kozma.

The citizen effort has the support of Vermont legislators Tony Klein and Peter Peltz who sponsored the Vermont ban bill. “It was clear in Vermont the dangers of fracking to our natural resources. In Vermont our natural resources are our number one priority, so it was not a difficult thing to prohibit fracking forever. It passed overwhelmingly,” said Klein. “We encourage all states, when they have the chance to do so, to ban this dangerous technique.”

New York ban groups also praised the amendment to ban fracking in Michigan. Maura Stephens, a cofounder of the Coalition to Protect New York and other grassroots groups, has been working on fracking issues for five years and will soon publish a book on the subject. “Only massive public resistance to fracking will stop the horrific industrialization of our beautiful states,” Stephens said. “This truly is a matter of life and death for your way of life.”

Earlier this month, a Michigan House of Representatives Natural Gas Subcommittee report recommended that the State lease all of its mineral rights, asserting Michigan’s “natural gas renaissance is upon us.”

The State auctioned off mineral rights in 23 Michigan counties on May 8 in Lansing, including the rights under Yankee Springs State Recreation Area (a state park) in Barry County and highly populated areas in Oakland County. Residents attempting to save their communities attended the auction, registered as bidders and tried, but failed, to purchase the mineral rights to the areas around Yankee Springs.

The entire Lower Peninsula now stands to be fracked. Devon Energy is looking at the A-1 carbonate layers in Gladwin County along with other areas in the middle of the state. Encana is drilling the Utica-Collingwood shale in state forests, with several operations in progress and more pending. Densely populated areas such as Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, and Jackson– communities historically not affected by oil/gas drilling within their borders–are now facing the threat.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which issues frack permits and at the same time, depends on revenue from the production of gas and oil, continues to publicly confuse the facts, claiming that hydraulic fracturing has been done for over 60 years, while not always informing the public that horizontal hydraulic fracturing is a new, as of 2002, experimental process, often referred to as a marriage of technologies between hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.

To volunteer to circulate or sign petitions, see: http://LetsBanFracking.org

The petition reads: A proposal to amend the Constitution by adding a new Section 28 to Article I to read as follows:

“To insure the health, safety, and general welfare of the people, no person, corporation, or other entity shall use horizontal hydraulic fracturing in the State. “Horizontal hydraulic fracturing” is defined as the technique of expanding or creating rock fractures leading from directional wellbores, by injecting substances including but not limited to water, fluids, chemicals, and proppants, under pressure, into or under the rock, for purposes of exploration, drilling, completion, or production of oil or natural gas. No person, corporation, or other entity shall accept, dispose of, store, or process, anywhere in the State, any flowback, residual fluids, or drill cuttings used or produced in horizontal hydraulic fracturing.”

 

Links:

Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan

http://LetsBanFracking.org

Ban Michigan Fracking

www.banmichiganfracking.org

Michigan House Bill 5565 (Physicians gag-order bill) http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(v5fzuf2quwfkkeb0ik05v145))/mileg.aspx?page=BillStatus&objectname=2012-HB-5565

 

Michigan Board of State Canvassers draft minutes to April 26, 2012 meeting

http://www.mi.gov/documents/sos/4-26-12_DRAFT_Minutes_383873_7.pdf

 

Michigan House of Representatives Natural Gas Subcommittee Report, April 2012

http://gophouse.com/publications/80/NaturalGasReport.pdf

 

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Don’t believe the “safe fracking” “safe track record” storyline

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The Michigan DEQ and gas industry are in full spin mode, repeating the industry’s lies about horizontal fracking –the insidious, massive industrialization that is about to invade Michigan–that have been sold to people around the country. Unless we can stop it.

Setting the Record Straight

Dr. Chris Grobbel, a scientist who once worked for the DEQ and now in private consulting on contamination cases, gave a talk recently in the Irish Hills in which he debunks the entire DEQ fairy tale of their past “clean record.” See Grobbel’s power point presentation Environmental Risks of Michigan Oil and Natural Gas Development. (Used with permission)

And a new documentary film is in the works that looks promising: “Unearthed: The Fracking Facade.” You will recognize the Michigan DEQ storyline in it.

See the 24-minute trailer:

Michigan’s entire Lower Peninsula targeted for fracking

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It has become clear in the last few weeks that Michigan’s entire Lower Peninsula is targeted for fracking with horizontal hydraulic fracturing. This Tuesday, May 8, the State of Michigan is auctioning off more mineral rights across the state in 23 counties for fracking.

Members of Ban Michigan Fracking created Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, a ballot question committee, to collect signatures on petitions to put a ban on fracking on the ballot in the November election.

WHAT YOU CAN DO THIS WEEK

May 7-8: Three Great Ways to Protest the May 8 Auction of State Lands for Oil & Gas Leasing
On May 8 the MI DNR will auction mineral rights for oil & gas leasing to 109,000 acres of state (public) land – including nearly all of the Yankee Springs Recreation Area (23,400 acres in Barry County) and portions of the Lake Orion Recreation Area in Oakland County. Land in 23 Counties is being offered.

May 7: Occupy the MI DNR Call-In Day – May 7 through May 8
Event Link:http://www.facebook.com/events/389401541103922/

May 7: Kalamazoo – Mineral Rights Protest March – 4:00pm
Event Link:http://www.facebook.com/events/362272633820503/

May 8: Lansing – Auction Protest & Rally for “Let’s Ban Fracking” MI Ballot Initiative
Event Link:http://www.facebook.com/events/118451664957895/?context=create

Location: Constitution Hall, 525 West Allegan, Lansing, MI
Time: Gather at 7:30am or after – Bring Ban Fracking / Save Public Land signs
Auction: Bidders Register at 8:00 am / Auction Begins at 9:00am
Parking: Garages at the building (Allegan and Pine) & Allegan and Capitol.

“Let’s Ban Fracking” Petitions for a Ballot Initiative to Ban Fracking in Michigan will be on site May 8.
Make sure you sign the just-launched petition.

MI DNR Bid Documents – Map and Parking Directions in this PDF:
http://www.michigan.gov/documents/dnr/Catalog_381830_7.pdf

MI DNR Auction Page – Check out the County Maps of Land Being Auctioned:
http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10368_11800-169044–,00.html