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A Better Partnership


May 2013
May 06, 2013

Challenges to Hydraulic Fracturing in Michigan Continue

Despite the lack of any reported environmental contamination in connection with the use of hydraulic fracturing in Michigan, challenges to the controversial completion practice persist. The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan recently announced a ballot initiative to impose a ban on horizontal hydraulic fracturing in Michigan and challenged the Michigan Public Service Commission’s (MPSC) approval of two natural gas pipeline applications.

In January, Encana Oil & Gas applied to the MPSC for regulatory approval to construct and operate two natural gas pipelines that  would connect two of Encana’s wells to gas sales pipelines. In the applications, Encana said  it “anticipates that it will drill a significant number of wells” near the two pipelines within the “next several years.” In accordance with its common practice to approve pipeline applications on an ex parte basis, the MPSC approved the applications on January 31, 2013.

More than  a month later, on behalf of two northern Michigan residents, attorney Ellis Boal, a member of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan’s advisory board, filed petitions to intervene and requests for evidentiary hearings regarding the MPSC’s approval of the pipelines. The residents objected to the MPSC’s approval of the pipelines on the basis that, by their estimations, inadequate environmental impact assessments accompanied Encana’s applications. The residents claimed that the “assessments were incomplete and deficient . . . especially in that they do not take account of the applicant’s plan for hundreds of wells and associated pipelines around the area, nor do they take account of their effect on nearby terrain, plant, and wildlife.” 
Specifically, the residents claimed that the cumulative effect of drilling and pipeline construction operations “will lead to industrialization of the northern lower peninsula’s state forests and wetlands, encroachment of opportunistic exotic species, and diminution of habitat for Kirtland Warblers and other protected species.” Though the attempted intervention sought to challenge the pipeline approvals, in effect, the objections sought to challenge the entire oil and gas development process in northern Michigan.

Encana objected to the petitions on procedural grounds. The MPSC denied the petitions last month on the basis that the residents did not have standing to challenge Encana’s applications because they had failed to establish they will suffer any “concrete or discernible injury in fact.”

While the MPSC rejected these challenges, there are likely to be more in the coming months.  In response to the considerable amount of disinformation regarding the hydraulic fracturing process, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Natural Resources officials have been scheduling regular information sessions on the safe development of oil and gas resources. With a possible ballot initiative and other challenges on the horizon, the debate over hydraulic fracturing will continue, as will efforts to educate the public.

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