September 19, 2012 - Groveland Twp.-On Sept. 10, the township board of trustees approved a resolution to support increased legislation and regulatory action on oil and gas development in the area.
Brandon, Springfield and Waterford townships recently signed similar resolutions.
Specifically, the resolution takes aim at fracking—the hydraulic fracturing for natural gas which involves chemicals and potentially hazardous materials both at the surface and for injection through gas production wells into geologic formations. The township resolution identifies the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (FRAC Act), to repeal the fracking exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act and require disclosure of chemicals used in fracking.
The township vote comes after seismic testing conducted in the township in July by Traverse City-based West Bay Geophysical to determine whether there is oil or natural gas in specific locations. The process involves placing sensors alongside the road and sending an acoustical signal into the ground via a vibratory tractor. Information gathered is used to create an acoustic map of the subsurface as an aid in defining the local geology. More than a third of township land is state or county-owned.
The seismic testing follows the Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently sold at auction state-owned gas and oil rights on more than 108,000 acres in 23 counties. According to news reports, in Oakland County the Jordan Development Company purchased the mineral rights to 17,600 acres and Pteradon Energy purchased the rights to 664 acres.
Bob DePalma, township supervisor was concerned about maintaining the quality of drinking water in the community.
"I hope fracking is safe, but we are taking extra steps to make sure it is," he said. "We are dependent on well water—we have no other alternative for water in the township. Currently the companies are not going after the natural gas in the township but, that could change. When they do we need measures in place to assure we and our drinking water is safe. The key issues is those companies don't have to disclose what chemicals they are using in the fracking process. At least the MDEQ (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) should know those chemicals Yes the have a good track recorded with fracking, but lets error on the safe side."
Brad Wurfel, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said that while such resolutions are becoming more frequent in Oakland County and other communities where Natural Gas drilling is prevalent it's often attempting to fix what isn't broken.
"This process (fracking) has been here operating safely for a very long time," he said. "The DEQ are the stewards of the environment of the state. We would either further regulate the process or just shut it down."
It's a documented fact that since the 1960s there's not been a problem with fracking. Hydraulic fracturing is a process—if fracking caused a problem we would have shut it down long ago. There's an abundance of Natural Gas in Michigan and Oakland County has plenty too. However, using fracking in Oakland County is highly unlikely, the formations underground does not lend itself to that. They have been getting gas out of the ground in the county for decades and it has not been damaging to the environment," he said.
Leasing the mineral rights of a specific parcel doesn't by itself grant permission to drill a well, he added.
According to the DNR, if a lessee chooses to pursue development of the oil and gas rights, separate written permissions — including a drilling permit from the DEQ — must be obtained prior to drilling.
"The DEQ has a very tight regulation on the gas industry—there are built in stringent rules," he added. "Once there's a test well the DEQ is there and it's inspected. After that we make regular contact until that well is decommissioned sometimes years down the road."
The DEQ continues to urge the natural gas industry to be more transparent regarding the chemicals used in the fracking process, he added. Companies are required to submit material safety data sheets to the state, but they don't include all components of the fluid or amounts of each chemical, added Wufel.
"Furthermore, it's in the best interest of the state to lease the state land to the developer," said Wurfel. "If that developer has land leased from a private individual they'll drill under the state land and retrive the natural gas anyway."