2013-10-31 / Community

DEQ plans to update ‘fracking’ regulations

Process extracts gas from layers of rock

LANSING – The DEQ has announced it is crafting new rules for hydraulic fracturing, a process commonly used to develop natural gas and oil wells.

Hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, involves pumping water, sand and chemicals into a drilled oil or gas well, then sealing and pressurizing it to crack layers of rock far below the surface and release gas and oil.

The process is used to maximize oil and gas production and access oil and gas reserves not available through conventional drilling alone.

Fracturing was first employed in Michigan in 1952 and has been used by oil and gas companies on more than 12,000 wells throughout the Lower Peninsula with no recorded incidents of contaminating groundwater.

Michigan has some of the nation’s most protective regulations governing oil and gas development. The DEQ periodically updates its regulations to reflect changes in technology and industry.

Agency leaders have been working throughout the past year with residents and stakeholders from the environmental community to better understand key concerns. DEQ regulators have hosted or attended more than 200 public meetings around the state during the past two years.

“We heard loud and clear that there is a growing concern about fracturing,” said DEQ Director Dan Wyant. “We are proud of the DEQ’s regulatory track record, but we want Michiganders to know that hydraulic fracturing is managed well when it is used in Michigan. These rule changes allow everyone to better understand fracturing, and how the DEQ is keeping Michigan’s resources safe during gas and oil development.”

The proposed changes focus on four key areas:

1. Water withdrawal assessment and monitoring. Permit applicants will be required to use the state’s water withdrawal assessment tool. Withdrawals will not be approved if the tool or a site-specific review indicates the withdrawal may cause an adverse impact to rivers or streams.

While use of the tool is required now by department policy to obtain a permit, several stakeholder groups asked that it be codified in regulations.

In addition, if there is a water supply well within 1,320 feet of a proposed withdrawal, the operator must install a monitor well and report water levels. The rules will set specifications for water storage pits.

2. Water quality sampling. Oil and gas operators will be required to collect baseline samples from up to 10 water supply wells within 1,320 feet of gas and oil wells, six months or less before drilling operations begin. Many companies do this voluntarily now.

3. Monitoring and reporting. Operators will be required to:

Identify whether high volume fracturing is expected to be utilized in permit applications for new wells;

Submit separate applications for HVHF operations on existing wells;

Notify the DEQ at least 48 hours before starting the operation; and,

Monitor and report fluid pressures and volumes for all HVHF operations.

4. Chemical additive disclosure. Operators will be required to submit information on chemical additives in a HVHF operation using the internet-based FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry. The information must include chemical constituents and maximum concentrations. The chemical family and trade name may be used for chemicals with trade secret protection under federal law.

Drafted rules are submitted to the state Joint Committee on Administrative Rules and go through a public review process. The DEQ expects to have the new rules in place next year.

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