Group Charges DEQ Mishandled Fracking Waste

Jan 18, 2013

A group that wants to ban hydraulic fracturing in Michigan says the state didn’t follow its own rules in disposing fluid from wells that were fracked. Millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals is used to get oil and gas out of deep shale wells.

Ban Michigan Fracking has learned that some wastewater from those wells was spread on public roads. And this was done close to a lake and in a campground near the Mackinaw Bridge last summer.

Accidently Discovered
Paul Brady drives Sunset Trail in rural Kalkaska County to get to work. He thought it odd when the road stayed wet all during a dry period last summer. “There’s not a road around here that stays muddy during the summer,” Brady says.

And he said it also had never been a road that was sprayed to keep the dust down. That’s something road commissions routinely do on dirt roads.

So he followed the wet road back to a well head a few miles from his home. It was one of the newer wells in Michigan being fracked to get at gas more than a mile deep.

“We know that tons of chemicals went down that well bore,” Brady says. “And it came up and it was spread on our roads. And that is why we should be concerned.”

Brady has a couple of young kids and he’s worried about possible effects of fracking on fresh water supplies.

The Mistake
The state only allows briny water from traditional oil and gas drilling to be applied to roads. Not the water from wells that are fracked.

Ray Vugrinovich with the Department of Environmental Quality issues the state permits for road brine. He says he was surprised to learn the water in this case came from a deep shale well.

“Because when I received the application from the company, I assumed this well had been online and producing sufficiently long that what they were saying was brine was in fact just the native brine,” Vugrinovitch says.

Soon after he realized the mistake, he rescinded the permit. Then DEQ went out to the well site to test the water. And it tested roadbeds where 40,000 gallons had been applied over several months.

No Harm No Foul?
"It turns out there really wasn’t anything in that water that would be deleterious above normal oil field brine,” says Hal Fitch who’s in charge of oil and gas development for the state.

Still he says, to be doubly safe, the DEQ then stopped the use of brine on roads from any deep well that has been hydraulically fractured.

And Ray Vugrinovitch says their practice in issuing permits also will change.  “At this point we will pay more attention to wells that are being submitted to determine if they’ve been laterally drilled and then hydraulically fractured,” he says.

Not So Fast
The group Ban Michigan Fracking says the way a well is named already indicates whether it’s to be fractured. The group insists regulators knew what they were doing when they approved fracking waters for road use last spring.

And Paul Brady has not been impressed with the agency’s transparency. “We asked the DEQ what’s in the fluid. We don’t get an answer,” Brady says. “We ask if it was tested. We’re told it was tested but no test results. Nothing’s been produced.”

The DEQ says it is complying with the Freedom of Information requests from Ban Michigan Fracking. The group says it’s been waiting for documents for months.

And it questions how state regulators can be trusted to protect the environment when apparently they can’t follow their own rules in properly disposing the liquid waste.