People pay thousands, millions, billions of dollars to vacation, hunt, fish and live here in the most beautiful places in Michigan. But apparently one industry has tried to get a discount on their auctions of our public state forests and leased property here. “Fracking” is just code word to identify the tip of the iceburg easily. Let’s zoom out and look at the entire picture. Let’s talk about unconventional shale oil and it’s byproducts like natural gas. Granted we absolutely need energy to cook, shower, get to work, to make the baby diapers and other things that keep things clean and dry or wet, and for people to not be an icicle in January… But, there are problems with the way we attain the resource called unconventional shale oil.
Collecting signatures to get a ballot question: “Should We Ban Fracking in Michigan?” I’ve talked to people on all sides of the issue. People on the zoning commissions, nuclear powerplant workers, farmers, muscle car enthusiasts, retired chemical plant employees, previous employees of oil companies, landowners, even veterans.
Their stories surprisingly prove to me there is good cause to find the truth and let people know. The greatful people keep me going.
But, many times I’ve walked with petitions, with pain in my stomach and no hope, and feeling dizzy and full of nausea looking around wondering who is going to heckle me, who is going to call me stupid this time? I go back to researching whenever someone says “NO, that is NOT true!” Sometimes people confide they are invested in those technologies. So I’ve learned you have to take a neutral stance and just ask the question flat out to anyone walking by, “Would you like to sign my petition to help get the ‘Ban Fracking in Michigan’ question on the ballot?”
Many people just don’t want to talk about it. There are cars zooming all around, each tire took 7 gallons of oil to make, oil being burned at breakneck pace. One guy was laughing his butt off. My shoes are made from oil, my pants are polyester (OIL) the cotton on my back would have never gotten to my hands without oil, 80% of the food I eat these days (OIL). So essentially in his eyes, I would have to be dressed in locally sourced hand made fiber, be a full time local farmer, and be feeding a horse from my neighbors hay field at that moment to have any credibility.
Still he had great ideas to recycle all plastic and other oil products and turn it back into oil. We have the oil locked up in tons of plastic and polystyrene now so if we could keep using it with minimal impact to our planet, well it could be a good thing, maybe? Next I get people who ask me questions:
Why is it so bad? My answer: I explain the energy return on investment. For each barrel we burn getting the oil about 3-7 barrels are created. Wind energy fares better, with 1 barrel we get 15 barrels worth of energy.
I show them pictures of how they change the landscape when they create numerous frack pads. 5-10 acres of land must be clear cut for each well, with roads leading to each one. There are open pits of dirty frack water waiting to be drawn up, (processed and recycled) used somewhere else, re-fracked with, or stored in containment barrels. That water contains contaminates from 2 miles deep within the earth like radon, thorium, lead, and polonium. Studies are being released showing that these contaminates are escaping into local surface waters like lakes and rivers in places like West Virginia. In North Dakota landfills keep Geiger counters at the gates of their entrances to block heavily contaminated frack wastes from getting dumped there. We just don’t have the technology to deal with this amount of added radioactivity yet.
Hundreds of semi truck trips are taken to deliver water, materials, maintenance, and removal of water. This will help hasten the rate at which our already aging network of roads deteriorate.
Holes are drilled 2 miles down and then 2 miles horizontally. The shale in the horizontal shaft is exploded and shattered, the water is laced with silica (to keep the fractures open) and hundreds of “secret chemicals” are pumped at high pressure to hydraulically release the goods. Any of you who have taken a technical physics class that appreciate the power of hydraulics and how a little force on water can move many tons of mass (hmm…why are we having so many earthquakes in Oklahoma again?) Many accidents occur at the surface of well operations or in transporting chemicals. Another reason is that our infrastructure that uses this natural gas needs billions of dollars of repair on a nation wide scale, not only that but our water pipes need mass repair as well!
No one wants to live near these operations, it’s noisy, smelly, and they use high intensity lighting at night that disrupts the animals nearby, these operations work 24/7. Dust storms being reported, OSHA wants workers to wear face masks to prevent breathing in silica. no one wants to insure property near these operations. These resources are finite, our great grandchildren will probably never have access to them. It’s expensive, each truck alone costs a million dollars, plus it takes millions of dollar to abandon and remediate the land, so once the cat is out of the bag…uugh!
What do you expect us to do instead? I even get people who say they’ve been working on this problem for years, as a writer, and there is no solution. Even composting releases methane. Where do you expect us to keep the compost pile? I do remember Ira Flatow’s Science Friday where he interviewed the scientist who was part of the Biosphere project. It had to be canceled because the composting system was depleting the oxygen and releasing methane in the dome and that made the air in the Biosphere not fit to breath. But in Grand Junction, Colorado the wastewater plant is reducing it’s release of methane from sewage by turning it into energy for their city utility vehicles. To add oxygen, we also need to grow more plants and trees, that would also help moderate the climate.
I’ve talked to a gentlemen who liked to hunt. Who had traveled to Pennsylvania to go turkey hunting and was dismayed to run into oil pipelines across their hunting grounds. He also talked about how Sweden is using their trash to make energy and are even importing trash to create more energy.
I’ve talked to people who live in Pennsylvania; who’ve experienced questionable water, afraid of what is coming out of their taps. If they can’t directly prove that they were impacted by oil and gas, (which the EPA does not have the proper equipment to test for the radioactive materials at levels in which it is present) or if they do not sign a non-disclosure agreement the expenses are their’s alone to bare when it comes to water testing and filtering. In the end, I feel I’m helping by talking to people about solutions and their first person experiences.
Renewable energy is taking off. First, I’ve recently read an article about how Japan completed their 5 MW biomass plant that uses wood chips. And now there are plans to build a 50 MW biomass energy plant. Also, here is a break through in Alberta Canada that uses giant fans to capture carbon in a liquid that absorbs the carbon and it can then be combined with hydrogen that was produced by solar or wind power to create a hydrocarbon. Plus, Michigan State University had developed clear solar panals. And most of all we can also move past our disdain for cannabis and start creating with hemp. I keep reading good news from cities, and entire states (like Hawaii), and small countries that are using sustainable and healthier technologies. Even if it takes 90 years (we really need to do that in half that time) there plenty of work to be done to create a different culture with energy use. As environmentalists, informed citizens, voters, volunteers, producers, and consumers we are doing something meaningful with our investments of time and money. Thank you for reading.
If you want to learn how you can make a difference, visit www.letsbanfracking.org
Environmental Working Group,
DANGER IN THE AIR: HEALTH CONCERNS FOR SILICA IN OUTDOOR AIR, http://www.ewg.org/research/sandstorm/health-concerns-silica-outdoor-air, September 25, 2014
The Fracking Facade: https://youtu.be/IPIEzSwPwT0
Gary Cooley From Grayling, MI