Tag: Conway Township

FLOW Local Ordinance Program Addresses Fracking Impacts in Conway Township, MI

FLOW Founder Jim Olson addresses Conway Township Fracking Issues

Click here to view and download the full press release as a PDF

Contact: Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director
liz@flowforwater.org or 231-944-1568

FLOW Local Ordinance Program Addresses Fracking Impacts in Conway Township, MI

Over 100 Citizens Attend FLOW Presentation

FOWLERVILLE, MI – In February of 2014, Conway Township signed up as the third township to participate in FLOW’s Local Ordinance program that helps the township develop regulatory ordinances to address potential risks and impacts of high volume hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for oil and gas. On February 6th, FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood and FLOW Founder Jim Olson delivered the first of two public presentations to educate and empower Conway Township leaders and residents about the associated risks and impacts of fracking and specific legal strategies to consider.

Held at the Alverson Center for Performing Arts in Fowlerville, the presentation drew an estimated crowd of almost 150 citizens and leaders who came to learn about horizontal fracking developments in Michigan since 2010, potential risks and impacts, and viable legal strategies to regulate fracking impacts as part of FLOW’s ordinance program for Conway Township. FLOW works with the township to determine what areas of concern are most pertinent to the community to regulate, and the public presentations dually serve as a forum for citizens and leaders to express the topics they hope local legal strategies can address.

“The turnout was impressive,” says Olson, “and the citizens demonstrated not only a real concern but a remarkable knowledge of the issues and context of fracking in Michigan and in their own community.” The GeoSouthern Energy Corporation drilled an exploratory well in Conway Township, granted by a 2013 permit. The permit approved three million gallons of water and fracking fluid to explore a one-mile radius area. The exploratory well is located on a property that, according to the owner in a Denver Post article from September 2013, was drilled three times in the past 30 years without success.

The February 6th presentation in Fowlerville was the first of two public presentations FLOW will host for Conway Township. Then, the FLOW staff will carefully craft a package of recommendations for Township leaders to consider incorporating into their local ordinances and laws as they see fit.

FLOW Founder Jim Olson addresses Conway Township Fracking Issues

FLOW Founder Jim Olson addresses Conway Township Fracking Issues. Photo (c) FLOW/Liz Kirkwood

“The fracking process is largely under-regulated or exempt from key federal and state laws that protect common water, land, air, and public health,” says Kirkwood. “The local governments are left holding the bag when it comes to protecting their citizens from the potential harms and risks of the fracking process or any other industrial processes that come to their town. Our program empowers local governments and their citizens to prepare themselves in advance to handle it,” she says.

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. 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 and franchise agreements.

FLOW has delivered a similar educational overview to over twenty communities throughout Michigan in the past year. 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.

An op-ed piece from January 12, 2014 the news service LivingstonDaily.com published outlined that, no matter where Conway Township officials and citizens choose to draw their party lines in regards to fracking, “there clearly can be an impact on the surrounding community where fracking is conducted, and it is more than fair for the local communities to have some controls in place to make sure they are minimal.”

The next FLOW public workshop for Conway Township will be held in late March, early April.  Conway Township like many of the neighboring townships in Livingston County is interested in proactively protecting the area’s valuable natural resources for agriculture and high quality of life. To ensure different viewpoints on this topic, Conway Township has invited the Department of Environmental Quality to speak to local officials about its permitting role for the oil and gas industry this coming week of February 10.

Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director
liz@flowforwater.org or 231-944-1568

LivingstonDaily.com: ‘Fracking’ authority debate ignites

Click here to read the article on LivingstonDaily.com

‘Fracking’ authority debate ignites

By Christopher Behnan

February 9, 2014

FOWLERVILLE, MI – Fighting big oil would be a costly proposition for any local government.

That doesn’t mean local officials don’t have legal ground to challenge drilling operations, including those that use hydraulic fracturing to maximize oil and gas extraction from rock formations, environmental officials said last week.

That’s particularly the case when drilling that uses high-volume “fracking” transports hazardous materials on public roads, disrupts peaceful communities or draws millions of gallons of water from local water supplies, they added.

The ability of local governments to regulate drilling operations has been front and center since Texas-based GeoSouthern Energy Corp. received a state drilling permit allowing injection of 3 million gallons of water, sand and chemicals on private property in Conway Township.

Environmental groups, including Traverse City-based For Love of Water, the state Department of Environmental Quality and the oil and gas industry often have different views on the local-rule issue.

Each is armed with voluminous case law they claim supports its views.

Last week, FLOW gave Conway Township and other local officials an overview of hydraulic fracturing in Michigan and discussed local ordinances it said empower local governments.

FLOW Chairman Jim Olson said local governments have a host of regulatory powers over drilling sites, including under Michigan’s Zoning Enabling Act and state law that favors public health and safety over commercial interests.

State law doesn’t allow local governments to regulate the location of drilling projects or prohibit drilling practices, including hydraulic fracturing, but does allow regulation of noise, air pollution, use of hazardous substances, Olson said.

“You can actually pass ordinances and regulate pretty much any activity that causes interference with the use and enjoyment of property of the community lands and parks and schools,” Olson said.

Because the zoning act only prohibits regulation of drilling wells, local governments also can regulate several “ancillary activities” such as related storage, chemical mixing, pumping activities and truck traffic, Olson added. He said local officials can require site plans from oil and gas companies for their projects.

He said local governments can require drilling permit applicants to submit environmental impact statements to local units under Michigan’s Environmental Protection Act.

Current law doesn’t require oil or gas companies to disclose chemicals used in the fracking process, but officials can require disclosure of chemicals transported on local roads, he added.

“You can say, ‘Well, here’s our roads. You’re going to have to tell us what you’re hauling on these roads and what you’re disposing,” while using the roads, Olson said.

DEQ oversight of operations

Exclusion of drilling oversight in the zoning act leaves jurisdiction over drilling and related operations such as fracking in the hands of the director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, said Adam Wygant, section chief with the DEQ’s Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals.

Wygant on Wednesday will discuss oil and gas operations with Livingston County officials.

Local governments have a say when oil and gas companies want to establish ancillary operations, such as treatment or equipment-storage facilities separate from drilling sites, however, he added.

Local officials can pass bans and moratoriums, but they will not be enforced under current law because the DEQ director, as Michigan’s supervisor of wells, has exclusive oversight of drilling operations, Wygant said.

“We believe our authority is what it is and what has been upheld by case law,” he said.

FLOW’s Olson said it’s possible, but unlikely, for local officials to impose a ban or moratorium on drilling or fracking. That’s in large part because private landowners have the right to lease their lands as they see fit, Olson said.

He said townships would have to prove there is no way to allow hydraulic fracturing anywhere within its boundaries without harming the health and safety of residents.

“You would have to prove that in court, so it’s a pretty tough burden,” Olson said.

FLOW recommended that Conway Township consider drafting several ordinances, including requiring notification of drilling permits to the public and Board of Trustees before drilling begins; requiring companies to pay for water testing for residents within 2 miles of drilling sites before work begins; and requiring a road bond for possible repairs on company truck routes.

The DEQ in October announced proposed rules based on residents’ concerns about hydraulic fracturing, including installation of monitor wells and water sampling in certain conditions; notification to the state if hydraulic fracturing is expected to be used; and disclosure of chemical properties and concentrations used.

Environmental groups were not satisfied with the DEQ’s proposal.

Contact Daily Press & Argus reporter Christopher Behnan at 517-548-7108 or at cbehnan@gannett.com. Follow him @LCLansingGuy on Twitter.

LivingstonDaily.com: ‘A lot at stake’ for locals regarding fracking rules

Click here to read the article on LivingstonDaily.com

‘A lot at stake’ for locals regarding fracking rules

Environmental group discusses options at Fowlerville meeting

A note from FLOW Chair Jim Olson to clarify – At the meeting, FLOW did say townships could undertake a ban, however we specified that it would be difficult to defend a ban, although you cannot preclude some circumstances where it may well be proper, because there is no place suitable where it could occur. But it is more likely, and better, that these issues and concerns are based on a case-by-case review through a zoning special use permit or other similar proceeding under the zoning or a police power ordinance.

By Christopher Behnan

February 6, 2014

FOWLERVILLE, MI – Local governments can use existing law and amend their own rules to regulate — if not outright ban — hydraulic fracturing in their backyards, For Love of Water representatives told local officials Thursday.

For Love of Water, or FLOW, was hired by Conway Township to discuss local rights after a Texas oil giant was permitted to inject 3 million gallons of water, sand and chemicals to maximize the potential recovery of natural gas at a local farm property.

FLOW Chairman Jim Olson said Michigan’s Zoning Enabling Act — which does not allow prohibition of drilling projects — empowers local governments to regulate everything from noise, hazardous materials and air pollution, to chemical mixing, storage and pumping activities at drilling sites.

Jim Olson, chairman of For Love of Water, explains the possible legal approaches that might be taken to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or 'fracking,' Thursday evening at the Alverson Center for Performing Arts at Fowlerville High School. / ALAN WARD/DAILY PRESS & ARGUS

Jim Olson, chairman of For Love of Water, explains the possible legal approaches that might be taken to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking,’ Thursday evening at the Alverson Center for Performing Arts at Fowlerville High School. / ALAN WARD/DAILY PRESS & ARGUS

Olson said local governments also can require environmental-impact statements and bonding for some activities, and address concerns such as lighting and dust control on local roads.

“Local communities have a lot at stake, and the question we started asking about a year-and-a-half ago was, ‘What can local units do?’ ” Olson explained.

“This is all basic stuff to address what is coming,” he added.

Local governments, in defending the public’s health and safety, could have legal standing to ban or place moratoriums on fracking but would face much bigger legal challenges, Olson added.

Just over 100 people attended Thursday’s session, which was intended to educate local leaders on high-volume hydraulic fracturing and their legal ability to regulate drilling-related activities in their communities.

FLOW will ultimately deliver a legal analysis based on Conway Township’s concerns, then leave it to the township attorney to draft ordinances.

FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood said the Conway site is one of 52 permitted projects that allow high-volume fracturing to tap oil or natural gas reserves.

Kirkwood said large volumes of local water usage for projects and hauling of “flowback” water from wells should be of top concern to local leaders.

“This is just another industrial use that is coming to your town,” Kirkwood said.

Cohoctah Township resident Arnie Nowicki asks a question about water quality during Thursday evening's meeting in Fowlerville. / ALAN WARD/DAILY PRESS & ARGUS

Cohoctah Township resident Arnie Nowicki asks a question about water quality during Thursday evening’s meeting in Fowlerville. / ALAN WARD/DAILY PRESS & ARGUS

John Simaz, a spokesman for the oil and gas industry, accused FLOW of using “backdoor” methods to attack a decades-old, environmentally safe practice that creates jobs and boosts the economy.

Olson noted that high-volume projects only emerged in Michigan a few years ago.

About 20 wells have been drilled in Michigan using high-volume hydraulic fracturing over the past few years.

Texas-based GeoSouthern Energy Corp. in September was issued the high-volume drilling permit in Conway.

GeoSouthern’s permit allows the company to drill about 4,400 feet into the ground and about 1 mile horizontally into a geological formation known as A-1 carbonate starting on resident Jack Sherwood’s farm property off Fowlerville Road.

Sherwood has said he doesn’t expect the process to yield much. His farm property has been drilled three other times over the past 30 years, and in all cases, the drills came up dry.

GeoSouthern to date has drilled an exploratory well and is awaiting results of rock samples that will determine whether there is enough product to justify the expense of hydraulic fracturing.

Results of the samples aren’t expected for at least another three weeks.

Contact Daily Press & Argus reporter Christopher Behnan at 517-548-7108 or at cbehnan@gannett.com. Follow him @LCLansingGuy on Twitter.