Marathon Oil makes its move with new Michigan frack well

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By Ellis Boal

Marathon Oil applied for a horizontal frack well in Michigan this past July, its first since buying out Canadian frack company Encana’s Michigan frack wells and permits last year and becoming the biggest potential fracker in the state.

Marathon acquired 430,000 acres of state leases from Encana. At the October auction of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) it added 148,000 acres, and 53,000 more this May. That works out to nearly 1000 square miles of leases under state land. The number does not count private leases it may also own.

The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) granted permit # 61130 unusually quickly, on August 21.

Stake and flag for Marathon’s applied-for State Beaver Creek 1-14 HD1 in Crawford County. In the background is the blowout preventer for the existing State Beaver Creek 1-23 HD1. Click and then click again to enlarge. Photos by Ellis Boal, 8/15/15.

Till now Marathon has kept its plans under wraps.

The 80-page application is viewable and downloadable here.

Named “State Beaver Creek 1-14 HD1,” the well, located in Crawford County, would descend to a true vertical depth of 4400 feet into what is called the “Detroit River” formation. This is a Devonian-age rock composed of a mixed series of carbonates, evaporites, and sandstones. It is shallower than the record-breaking Utica-Collingwood frack wells drilled in the area by Encana in 2012. Horizontally in the Detroit River formation, the bore would then head south 5255 feet.

It would be an exploratory well. The surface hole is said to be 55 feet south of an earlier Beaver Creek wellhead on the same pad, named “State Beaver Creek 1-23 HD1,” which is now producing.

Encana’s application for the earlier well cited 350,000 barrels of water, or 14.7 million gallons, as the amount it would use for fracking.

Marathon’s surveyor was Dean Farrier. He claims to moonlight as a “biologist.” In January 2013 he prepared an environmental impact assessment for the gathering line for the earlier Beaver Creek well. Asked by the Public Service Commission to demonstrate the efforts and resources he used to write the assessment, he said he “conducted a thorough onsite survey of [the] pipeline route for the presence of protected species” including what he called “Kirkland’s” warblers.

The claim is ridiculous. He didn’t pay attention in the biology classes. They are “Kirtland’s” warblers. At the time of his survey they were actually 1000+ miles south, wintering in the Bahamas.

Kirtlands are beautiful, popular, and endangered birds, for which a local community college is named.

Marathon’s application says the new well may pass through sour gas (H2S) zones. H2S is lethal. The application includes a 30-page “contingency plan” for dealing with H2S. If there is an uncontrolled release, the extreme recommended solution is to ignite the well via an upwind approach, wearing self-contained breathing apparatus, using a meteor-type flare gun and a safety rope attached to a backup responder, with a quick retreat path available. After ignition, H2S converts to sulfur dioxide which is also highly toxic, according to the contingency plan.

The new well will have a permanent water well. The environmental impact assessment of the application says volume of frack water will be “1.815 gallons.” On a later page the application says “1,815,000 gallons.”

Waters Landfill

The Waters landfill in Crawford County. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

Cuttings and muds will be disposed at Waste Management’s nearby Waters landfill.

The chemical constituents of the frack fluid are said to be: water, hydrochloric acid, crystalline silica quartz, tributyl tetradecyl phosphonium chloride, hemicellulase enzyme, propargyl alcohol, methanol, hydrotreated light petroleum distillate, alcohol C12-16 ethoxylated, ammonium chloride, naphthalene, ethanol, heavy aromatic petroleum naphtha, and guar gum.

The public health study of the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute identified three of these as particularly concerning:

  • methanol (cardiovascular, dermal, hepatic, neurological, irritant/corrosive)
  • hydrotreated light petroleum distillate (carcinogen, irritant/corrosive)
  • silica (dermal, ocular, respiratory).

Marathon also filed an application for a pooled 800-acre spacing unit. It notes there are numerous critical unknowns with the Detroit River formation in this area. These include reservoir pressure, permeability, porosity, hydrocarbon saturation, and in-situ rock stresses. This well would be the first in the drilling unit.

Marathon paid a $300 application fee.

Marathon welcomes the public

   

Photos by Gary Cooley, 9/5/15.

Photos by Gary Cooley, 9/5/15.

As it was assembling equipment to start drilling the new well in early September, the company put this sign up on the site. It says:

Photographing or otherwise recording this facility or its operations is prohibited without written consent from the company.

The sign adds “Access to this facility is limited to authorized personnel only.” It refers to the area as “company property.” It claims the right to search the “person, personal property, and vehicle” of any visitor to the premises. It adds that anyone “suspected” of violating a “company policy” may be “referred to law enforcement officials.”

But the state owns the property. Marathon has a permit to drill, but it does not have a permit to exclude visitors. People have the right to walk in the state forest, carry a camera, and use it. The DNR manages it and its policy is:

Michigan’s forests are of incredible value to the people, animals, plants, and other organisms that live in and travel through the State.

On September 22 Ban Michigan Fracking demanded of Hal Fitch, DEQ’s supervisor of wells, that DEQ order the company to paint over the offending language. Fitch refused. He wrote back saying there was “no evidence of any violations of either Part 615 or Part 625“, the laws he administers.

Under current Michigan law, DEQ’s job is to “foster” the industry “favorably.”

The Graham Institute completed its intensive two-year report this month on high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) in Michigan. One thing in the executive summary that it got right was a criticism of the DEQ’s current policy involving the public and well permitting. It said the policy “hinders transparency about HVHF operations in the state.” Fitch’s response proves the point.

The next day BMF made the same demand of DNR. DNR promptly sent staff to the pad and told the foreman to take down the sign.

The threatening bullying sign had been up, unchallenged, for three weeks.