Author: FLOW Editor

FLOW Local Ordinance Program Brings Fracking Protection to Two Michigan Townships

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PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 23, 2013

FLOW Local Ordinance Program Brings Fracking Protection to Two Michigan Townships

Michigan Communities Seek Regulation of Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing for Natural Gas

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Two Michigan Townships—Cannon Township and Gun Plain Charter Township—signed up with FLOW to develop regulatory ordinances on horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” FLOW is the Great Lakes Basin’s only public trust policy and education center.  These townships, in Kent County and Allegan County respectively, are taking the lead in protecting their community from the industrial land-use impacts and potential risks of fracking.

Fracking for oil and natural gas is exempt from many regulatory laws at both the federal and state levels, including the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts, the Great Lakes Compact and Michigan’s Water Withdrawal Act. These townships are setting a precedent by being the first in the state of Michigan to develop fracking regulation ordinances in consultation with FLOW. Despite zoning prohibitions to regulate drilling, construction production, and operation of oil and gas wells, townships still do maintain legal authority to regulate ancillary activities, including roads, truck traffic, pipelines, flow lines, gathering lines, location of wells, disclosure of chemical use, air pollution and more. Moreover, townships can rely on other sources of authority such as police power ordinances.

Last week, Cannon Township enacted a fracking moratorium and will not consider any requests for fracking activities for a period of six months, so that the township has an opportunity to study potential impacts. On Wednesday, May 22, FLOW held the first of three educational meetings with Cannon Township officials and community members to facilitate the development of a fracking ordinance there. In this process, FLOW works with the township to determine what areas of concern are most pertinent to the community to regulate. FLOW will facilitate this same fracking ordinance development program in Gun Plain Township, and the first meeting there is scheduled for June 19.

“Whether you are for or against fracking, the important things for communities to know are the impacts we face with this high-impact and water-intensive technology, and be prepared in advance to handle it,” remarks FLOW’s founder and chair, Jim Olson.

Gun Plain Township was one of several townships present at the March 18 Allegan County Supervisors meeting at which FLOW was invited to present an educational overview of legal strategies and tools for local communities to regulate fracking. FLOW has delivered a similar educational overview program a dozen times throughout Michigan in the past three months. This informational presentation is based on FLOW’s November 2012 report, “Horizontal Fracturing for Oil and Natural Gas in Michigan: Legal Strategies and Tools for Communities and Citizens.” FLOW’s report highlights legal strategies and policies designed to assist local governments in safeguarding their communities against the unprecedented and cumulative impacts of fracking.

Horizontal fracking requires injecting a cocktail of up to 21 million gallons of water and over 750 chemicals under high pressure into wells in order to fracture deep shale formations and release oil and natural gas. A review of literature on fracking and its associated risks reveals several concerns: (1) massive water withdrawals; (2) groundwater contamination; (3) surface spills and leaks; (4) wastewater management; (5) land-use impacts; (6) truck traffic and burden on infrastructure; (7) lack of public disclosure.

The Collingwood/Utica deep natural gas shale formation spans across Michigan’s Lower Peninsula; since May 2010, around 752,260 acres of Michigan’s state land has been leased for oil and gas development. Grassroots and citizen organizations throughout the state have expressed their concern about fracking in their communities. While there are no producing fracking wells in either Cannon or Gun Plain Townships, most state lands in both counties and a significant portion of private lands have already been leased for exploration.  In response to concerned citizens, these townships are taking preventative action with FLOW’s assistance. FLOW encourages other concerned citizens and coalitions to alert their township Supervisors and examine the need for similar regulatory ordinances to protect against the industrial impacts of fracking.

For more information:
Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director, FLOW, (231) 944-1568
liz@flowforwater.org | @FlowForWater | www.flowforwater.org

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FLOW is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to advance public trust solutions to save the Great Lakes. Through its law and policy work, FLOW is raising public awareness about the public trust doctrine and its principles as a unifying framework to protect the commons and address the systemic threats to water, public lands, and the environment throughout the Great Lakes.

MLive: Cannon Township group gathers to discuss anti-fracking ordinance

Read the article on MLive here.

May 22, 2013 at 12:45 PM, updated May 22, 2013 at 1:06 PM

ROCKFORD, MI – A group of 15 citizens and township leaders gathered at the Cannon Township Hall on Wednesday, May 22, to create regulations that may limit hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” if an oil or gas well is ever drilled in the township.

Jim Olson, a Traverse City lawyer and founder of FLOW (For Love of Water) of Michigan said the session is the first of three he will lead with the goal of developing a zoning ordinance that would limit hydraulic fracturing in the township, located east of Rockford in northeastern Kent County.

Jim Olson, founder of FLOW (For Love Of Water) of Michigan, leads a meeting with citizens at at meeting in Cannon Township on Wednesday, May 22

Jim Olson, founder of FLOW (For Love Of Water) of Michigan, leads a meeting with citizens at at meeting in Cannon Township on Wednesday, May 22. (c) Jim Harger | MLive

“We will develop a package that is ready to turn over to your planner and your attorney,” Olson told the group at the outset of the two-hour meeting.

Earlier this month, the township’s board adopted a six-month moratorium on any “fracking” related activities while the board studies possible restrictions on “ancillary” activities.

Currently, there are no applications to drill oil and gas wells in the township or Kent County, according to the DEQ. Some private and public lands have been leased by oil and gas exploration companies.

“Fracking” pumps high volumes of water, sand and chemicals into oil and gas wells in an attempt to improve their flow.

Though “fracking” has been used on Michigan oil and gas wells for 60 years, environmentalists are concerned because “fracking” on modern horizontally drilled oil wells use millions of gallons of groundwater.

Olson told the group federal and state environmental laws exempt “fracking” activities while local governments are restricted from regulating the practice.

“We don’t take a position on whether fracking is good or bad,” he said. Banning the practice is not legal but local governments can take action to protect their water and air quality.

Banning the practice, Olson said, “is a difficult path to go down.” In fact, the state law says local groups are barred from regulating oil and gas drilling, he said.

But townships can govern “ancillary activities” such as water wells, trucking access roads, “sweetening facilities” that process the oil or gas, chemical and mixing stations and transfer stations, Olson said.

Olson said a special use permit could be developed “to at least let your citizens know what’s coming.”

Cannon Township resident Mary Reusch said she attended the meeting because she and her husband are worried about the possibility of losing the trees in the Cannonsburg State Game Area, which lies next to their home.

“It would break my heart to see those trees come down,” said Reusch, who said her husband walks through the forested area almost daily.

Reusch said she also is worried about the impact “fracking” could have on Meandering Creek, which runs through the 10-acre parcel on which they have lived for the past 13 years.

Cannon Township resident Shirley Kallio said she attended the meeting because a parcel of farmland near her home has been leased for oil and gas exploration.

FLOW leaders also are meeting with citizens in Muskegon County’s Montague Township and Kalkaska this week to discuss similar actions.
Olson, who plans to meet with the group again on June 19, gave the group “homework,” asking them to develop a rational for protecting their resources.

In the greater Grand Rapids area, the only oil and gas well that has permission to “frack” is located in Ionia County’s Ionia Township.

The well, which was drilled last fall on a farm north of I-96 by Texas-based Rosetta Resources, has not yet been “fracked” or completed, according to Bill Mitchell, a geologist with the Department of Environmental Quality.

Video: Jim Olson, Maude Barlow on Public Trust and the Commons at the Rochester, NY Sierra Club 15th Annual Forum

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FLOW President and Chair Jim Olson joins international water advocate Maude Barlow at the Rochester, NY Sierra Club’s 15th Annual Environmental Forum on March 25, 2013. To watch the video in full, click here.

FLOW Staff to Issue Public Statement at Governor’s Energy Forum in Traverse City

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FLOW Staff to Issue Public Statement at Governor’s Energy Forum in Traverse City

Michigan’s Energy Plan Needs to Bring Water to the Center of the Conversation

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Governor Rick Snyder’s “Readying Michigan to Make Good Energy Decisions” Public Forum tour makes its seventh and final stop in Traverse City on Monday April 22, 2013. FLOW, a Traverse City-based nonprofit water policy and education center, has prepared written comments and will made public statements during next week’s forum that highlight the water-energy nexus as an integral part of charting Michigan’s energy future plans. Once water is elevated and integrated into the energy debate, the case for prioritizing renewable energies becomes clear. FLOW is a proponent for establishing and applying principles that unify and protect the integrity of the water cycle that flows through the “nexus” between energy production, water management, and climate change.

“Michigan faces a watershed moment and opportunity to chart a new cleaner energy course that is good for jobs, good for the environment, good for energy affordability, and good for the water,” says FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood. Energy production, particularly of non-renewable sources, depends heavily on water for resource extraction, refining and processing, transportation, and electric power generation. The International Energy Agency projects that the amount of water consumed for energy production will double by 2035. FLOW urges Michigan energy policy-makers to wean Michigan off water-intensive energy sources, such as coal-fired power plants and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. “The big issue with fracking is the water, both in sheer quantity (e.g., 300 million gallons to frack 13 wells in Kalkaska County) and in safe disposal of chemical-laden and often toxic wastewater that will never return to our hydrologic cycle,” remarks Kirkwood.

In addition to water consumption for energy generation, climate change is a major issue to address in the water-energy nexus, according to Attorney and FLOW Chair Jim Olson. “What we want the Governor’s office and our state’s decision-makers to realize is that Michigan’s current energy plan is much more expensive when the costs of climate change impacts on water resources are accounted for. Our dependence on fossil fuels is the leading cause of climate change—the largest diversion of water from the Great Lakes—and the principle reason for current low water levels,” says Olson. Historic low water levels are costing taxpayers up to $21 million for emergency dredging this year. Super-storms, drought, increased evaporation, heavy precipitation, and precipitously falling water levels are all strong indicators that our fossil fuel and carbon-rich lifestyle and diet is no longer sustainable to assure the integrity and health of the waters of the Great Lakes.

The bottom line is that expanding Michigan’s renewable energy portfolio makes good sense because it good for jobs, good for the environment, good for energy affordability, and good for the water.

For more information: Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director, FLOW

Radio: Thirsty Natural Gas Wells Proposed — Jim Olson on IPR

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Jim Olson speaks with Peter Payette on on Interlochen Public Radio program Points North

“Attorney Jim Olson says Michigan is playing a guessing game when it comes to water use and the development of deep shale gas. He says the safeguards in place are inadequate when it comes to protecting rivers and streams. State regulators say they can and do deny water withdrawal permits when oil and gas companies want to take too much water from the ground to drill a natural gas well.”

Click here to listen

FLOW and Jim Olson Featured on MyNorth.com

Northern Michigan Environment: Jim Olson on FLOW for Water

Nationally renowned environmental attorney Jim Olson gives a quick overview of his new Great Lakes water advocacy group FLOW, based in Traverse City.

 

By Jeff Smith

March 25, 2013

Click here to read the article on MyNorth.com

TRAVERSE CITY – Northern Michigan Outdoors: We last checked in with environmental attorney Jim Olson in late 2011, when the nationally renowned water law expert was launching a nonprofit called FLOW, for the love of water. The group’s mission is to promote new legal protections for water based on public trust principles, principles that he says lie at the very foundation of Western environmental law. Boiled to the essence, the principle asserts that water should be governed so that everybody can use the water, but nobody can use water in a way that renders it unusable for others (like, say, pollute the water or over-draw the water). (Get a more in-depth explanation here: mynorth.com/My-North/August-2011/Traverse-City-Attorney-is-Defender-of-Global-Water/). The public trust principles sound like common sense and simple enough, but in practice not so easy to get through a legislature.

Olson has been promoting public trust protection of water for more than 30 years. Back when he started, few people took him seriously, but over the decades and through his tireless efforts, his ideas have become part of the national and international water management dialog.

We checked in with Olson on a recent snowy Traverse City afternoon to see how things have progressed since we last spoke.

What’s the biggest victory FLOW has had since we last spoke?

Olson: In December 2011 we met with the International Joint Commission, which is a U.S. and Canadian board that has legal authority to set laws for Great Lakes water, and presented our ideas. They invited us to Washington D.C. and gave us a private hearing, which is a rare event. We followed up with a report to the Environmental Protection Agency and to the president’s coastal policy board. We also published an article in the Vermont Law Journal.

Water levels in the Great Lakes are on everybody’s minds these days—landowners, freighter ship captains, environmentalists—are you doing anything in that realm?

Olson: In fall of 2012 we submitted comments to the IJC about how public trust principles can be applied to water level decisions. These are complex and multi-layered challenges and public trust principles offer a profound limitation to possible abuses.

What was your approach in your comments?

Olson: We took each threat to the Great Lakes and looked at how public trust would affect that particular issue, how public trust principles would play out in the real world to get a good result.

What about on the FLOW organization side, what’s to report there?

Olson: We now have 17 board members and two paid staff. Liz Kirkwood is our executive director and Allison Voglesong is doing our communications. They are a couple of very dynamic people and really doing a great job.

What do you see as some of the specific issues you’ll be tackling in coming months?

Olson: Water levels, certainly. And we are looking for the ability to use local regulations to protect against fracking. Nutrient loading into the Great Lakes is important. How the energy and water and climate interaction will affect water in the Great Lakes.

Obviously the biggest environmental issue of our time is climate change—is there a connection to public trust principles there?

Olson: The Great Lakes are at an all-time low, and many people think climate change is largely to blame. We are looking closely at the hydrologic cycle. If you think about it, excess evaporation due to climate change is actually a diversion of some sort.

Lake Michigan Water Levels – Climate Change is Taking Our Water

by Elizabeth Kirkwood, FLOW Executive Director and Bob Otwell, FLOW Board of Directors Treasurer

February 24, 2013
Traverse City Record-Eagle – The Forum
Click here to view the Record Eagle article
Click here to read the article as a PDF

 

The exposed shoreline along Lake Michigan is creating a local buzz as residents watch this beautiful lake recede. Levels of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are at historic lows and 2012 marked the fourteenth consecutive year of below average water levels.

Three key factors that influence water levels are: (1) precipitation, (2) evaporation, and (3) runoff from land. Since 1950, precipitation has held relatively steady at 32 inches per year. Evaporation, however, has changed dramatically. A look at data from NOAA between 1950 and the mid-1980s reveals that total evaporation over the two lakes averaged 24 inches per year.

In the last decade, though, the average annual evaporation has increased by 25 percent to 30 inches. Warmer water temperatures, coupled with less ice cover during the winter have contributed to increased evaporation rates, which in turn lead to continued lowering of lake levels. By altering the hydrologic cycle of precipitation, evaporation, and runoff, climate change is directly affecting Lake Michigan.

Other factors also have affected lake levels, including (1) the historic diversion of water out of Lake Michigan at Chicago to flush sewage down the Mississippi River, and (2) the dredging of the St. Clair River, which lowered the outlet of Lake Huron. But all in all, climate change remains the greatest diversion out of these lakes.

With this issue of record-low water levels front and center on everyone’s minds, it provides a timely opportunity to develop holistic policy solutions to prevent further impairment and diversions. The Great Lakes are a shared public “commons” that can be protected by applying an overarching legal framework called the public trust doctrine. Public trust solutions equitably balance protected public water uses including navigation, commerce, fishing, drinking water and swimming.

This ancient legal doctrine is deeply rooted in our history. Two thousand years ago, the Roman Emperor Justinian established water as a commons held in trust for its citizens. In 1215, British Courts also ruled that the water was held in trust, and that the Crown could not interfere with the public’s right to fish, boat, or swim. In 1892, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Great Lakes to be held in public trust for all to enjoy. This trust means that government and citizens have a duty to pass on the integrity of these waters to future generations.

If we look at the lakes under the public trust lens, the Chicago diversion does not meet the standard because it takes water out of the watershed. Moreover, modern wastewater treatment has eclipsed the need to divert water to the Mississippi. As observed over the past decade, impacts to the lake levels from climate change are real and growing. We must continue to work locally, nationally, and internationally to reduce fossil fuel use, and demand action from our government leaders. Other parts of the country are experiencing loss of life and billion dollar impacts from tornados and hurricanes attributed to our changing climate. In the Great Lakes basin, what will our reality be?

About the authors: Liz Kirkwood is Executive Director of For Love Of Water.(FLOW), a Traverse Cty non-profit policy institute whose mission is to recognize the Great Lakes as a commons held in public trust for the benefit of current and future generations. She is a former environmental attorney. Bob Otwell is a FLOW Board Member and founder of Otwell Mawby, P.C, a Traverse City engineering consulting firm. He is the former Executive Director of TART Trails, Inc.