195,000 acres up for lease in Michigan later this month

11:10 AM, Oct 12, 2012   |    comments
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Hydraulic fracturing -- orr fracking -- uses water and chemicals to break up shale underground to access natural gas and oil.

ADA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WZZM)- Thousands of acres of land that could be used for "fracking" will be available for lease in Michigan.

On October 24, the Department of Natural Resources will offer state-owned oil and gas rights to more than 195,000 acres in 22 counties.

It's a sale that happens twice a year, but recently, it's become controversial.

In Kent County, there are 8,200 acres up for grabs. At Cannonsburg State Game Area in Ada Township, resident Gary Bart says he is concerned about fracking.

"I've been hearing about it for a few years," says Bart.  "I never really checked into it until they talked about the state game area."

Part of the area, just off of Egypt Valley and 5 Mile Road, could be leased to gas and oil companies.

The DNR is offering only mineral rights below the surface, but if drilling occurs at another location and gas or oil is produced, the state will get royalties from it.

"It's not that I don't want to get resources out of the ground," says Bart.  "I want to make sure it's safe first."

The controversy is with the fracking process. It involves injecting water and chemicals into the ground. The pressurized liquid fractures the shale and creates a flow of natural gas.

"It's driven the cost of gas down dramatically," says Professor Gerry Van Kooten, who teaches geology at Calvin College. 

Van Kooten says hydraulic fracturing has brought money and jobs to other states. "In North Dakota, the state budget is robust," says the professor.  "They're getting a lot of income from [fracking]."

There are also concerns about the environment and the potential for contaminated ground water. "The chemistry of the water you put down is important in making the frac-job work, but that water will all be produced at the surface," says Van Kooten.  "You have to handle that."

Van Kooten says there are regulations -- varying from state to state -- require proper collection of the contaminated water. However, companies do not disclose what chemicals are in the liquid.

"Companies are very reluctant to release what's in their fluids because it's proprietary," the professor says.  "The public, on the other hand, has the right to know what's being injected at depth."

The Department of Environmental Quality says hydraulic fracturing has never been responsible for environmental damage in Michigan.  DEQ representatives say if the process posed a threat, they would further regulate it or outlaw it.

Gary Bart isn't convinced. "There is a safety factor we don't know about yet," he says.

In the meantime, Bart has been educating himself about fracking. He would like to see more regulation and more studies done about the affects on the environment.

Ada Township is drafting a letter to the DNR asking that it put off further auctions until more studies have been done about fracking. The township is also asking residents to educate themselves about the issue before allowing any kind of drilling on their property.

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