MDEQ Proposed Fracking Rules:
How to Submit Written Public Comments and Attend Public Hearings
The MDEQ has set dates and locations for two Public Hearings on changes it is proposing to rules governing high volume slickwater hydraulic fracturing (HVHF). Under the Michigan Administrative Procedures Act, agencies such as the MDEQ are required to hold hearings and also invite written comments from the public whenever it writes new rules or changes old ones. This is our only opportunity to weigh in on the rule-making process.
The public hearings will be held:
July 15, 2014, at 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Treetops Resort, 3962 Wilkinson Road, Gaylord, Michigan 49735
July 16, 2014, at 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., at the Lansing Center, 333 East Michigan Avenue, Lansing, Michigan 48933.
The proposed rules can be seen on the web here:
The changes to the rules proposed by MDEQ certainly will not make HVHF safe because it is a dangerous industrial activity conducted in the open air and through soils and groundwater, but some of the changes are at least baby steps in the right direction.
If the MDEQ conducts these Public Hearings as it has conducted others, there will be only 2 or 3 minutes allotted to each person with no certainty that the length of the hearing will be sufficient to allow each person to speak. Therefore, if you attend, it is important that you bring a written comment to submit. If you do not attend, MDEQ will accept written public comments that are received by July 31, 2014. Comments can be sent electronically or by regular mail to:
Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
P. O. Box 30256
Lansing, MI 48909-7756
*this e-mail address is case-sensitive
On the MLAWD website Resources page (www.MLAWD.org) is a comment jointly submitted by six organizations that are concerned with one or more of the many environmental problems created by HVHF. The groups did a great job identifying infirmities in the highly technical provisions, and also identifying additional areas in need of regulation that are not included in the proposed changes. However, the joint comment is silent as to needed regulations to address significant air pollution and degradation of air quality due to escape of methane and heavy use of massive diesel engines on and off drilling pads. Therefore, MLAWD encourages you to include this area of needed regulation in your comment.
The groups are: Anglers of the Au Sable, Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Michigan Trout Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation and Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council.
You will see that the rules, proposed changes and comment by these organizations are highly technical. That does not mean that your comment also must be technical. Following is a distillation of some of the points raised by these groups.
One of the rules changes deals with spacing requirements between drill bores. The six groups point out that the proposed change actually waters down existing requirements rather than makes them more stringent. Drill spacing is important because without proper distances there can be “interference” between well bores when one is fractured. This is extremely dangerous.
The process of “acidizing” a well should also be subject to the rules because, as the six groups point out, the same or similar hazardous chemicals are used, and the process poses similar risks.
Claims of “trade secrets” shield companies from having to disclose precisely what mix of chemicals they use at any given site. The proposed rules contain no definition, criteria or standard that would constitute what does or does not qualify as a trade secret which is necessary before there could be any meaningful regulation.
High Volume Water Withdrawals:
Similarly, in the context of approving high volume water withdrawals, the rules recite the phrase “environmentally sound and economically feasible water conservation measures”. However, the six groups point out that no such conservation measures have been identified as applying to the oil and gas industry. Therefore, this also appears to be a toothless standard.
Rules involving contingency planning should include the requirement that if nearby residents begin to experience water well failure, there should be a requirement that high volume water withdrawals must stop or an alternative drinking water supply must be provided.
The MDEQ has come under criticism for using computer software (Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool) to permit high volume water withdrawals. This software was not designed for the purpose for which the MDEQ is using it, and it has not been updated as recommended by the designer. The six groups urge that when there will be cumulative withdrawals of more than 5 million gallons of water, the MDEQ must conduct site specific assessments and monitoring on the ground to evaluate actual impacts to streams, wetlands and water table levels.
Baseline Water Testing:
The proposed rule that would require baseline testing of groundwater needs much improvement. It should not be limited to groundwater but must also include surface water, streams, lakes and wetlands because there is routine spillage of hazardous substances on the surface. Sampling must not be limited to just a ¼ mile radius from the drill pad. Also, language must be clarified to require that samples must be taken before drilling begins, that standard protocols accepted by the scientific and legal community must be followed, that testing must also occur after fracturing, and a shorter time period must be set for the companies to release results of testing to the public. Importantly, the new rule also must require testing for a broader range of substances than just BTEX, TDS, chloride and methane.
Notice to First Responders:
A proposed rule includes some notice to area first responders but the rule is limited to wells where drillers expect to run into hydrogen sulfide. Earlier notification as to all wells that covers all activity must be included; there are also serious risks involving storage and transport of chemicals that the rule also does not touch on.
Outlawing Flowback on Roads:
After the infamous MDEQ approval of spreading flowback on roads for dust control, the agency issued a directive prohibiting this practice. The agency directive must be included in these formal rules to insure that it would be harder to rescind it.
Disclosure of Chemicals:
There are provisions proposed for disclosure of some of the chemicals companies use, but the rule as presently drafted is unacceptable. Among other things, the six groups recommend that public disclosure occur before fracturing begins so that nearby residents can test their water wells to establish baseline water quality and so that first responders know what they will face if an emergency situation develops. The groups also strongly urge the MDEQ to require disclosure on a government website rather than on the informal site known as FracFocus.
Additional Reforms Needed
The six groups identify other areas where regulation is inadequate or absent and is needed to protect the environment and the general health, safety and welfare: management of wastes; fees and financial assurances; leasing and production on sensitive or high value lands, public participation and transparency, seismicity (earth quakes), and traffic management and other protections for local communities and ecosystems.
Please submit a comment and, if possible, attend one of the Public Hearings so the MDEQ knows that the public is watching this rulemaking process. Please also pass this along to friends, co-workers and family members, and encourage them to submit their own comment.