Citizen-Led Ballot Initiative to Ban Fracking Begins in Michigan
A citizen-led ballot initiative to amend the Michigan state constitution to ban horizontal hydraulic fracturing statewide began this week. The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, a ballot question committee, received approval of its petition from the Board of State Canvassers. The proposed amendment would also ban the storage of wastes from horizontal hydraulic fracturing, preventing Michigan from becoming a frack wasteland. Michigan has more than 1,000 injection wells and more than 12,000 conventional gas and oil wells that could be converted for that purpose.
Michigan is the only state in the nation where citizens are attempting to ban fracking by amendment to a state constitution. Vermont’s legislature passed a ban on fracking on May 4 and with the governor’s approval, became the first state to implement a ban.
The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan is required to submit 322,609 valid signatures from Michigan voters by July 9 to the Bureau of Elections, in order to place the proposed amendment on the ballot in November.
“Michigan’s constitution invites citizens to amend it,” said Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan’s Campaign Director LuAnne Kozma, of Novi, and a co-founder of the nonprofit public interest group Ban Michigan Fracking. “We chose to form a ballot question committee and amend the constitution because we cannot count on our current elected officials to do the right thing. Proposed ‘frack reform’ bills in Lansing are only attempts to regulate and tolerate fracking and put studies in the hands of state regulators. New legislation (HB 5565) introduced last week, touted as a disclosure of frack chemicals bill, contains language that forbids physicians treating frack victims from disclosing the chemicals, even to patients. We knew we had to act to stop the toxic invasion about to devastate our state. We will not recognize Michigan in a few years if we do not ban fracking,” said Kozma.
The citizen effort has the support of Vermont legislators Tony Klein and Peter Peltz who sponsored the Vermont ban bill. “It was clear in Vermont the dangers of fracking to our natural resources. In Vermont our natural resources are our number one priority, so it was not a difficult thing to prohibit fracking forever. It passed overwhelmingly,” said Klein. “We encourage all states, when they have the chance to do so, to ban this dangerous technique.”
New York ban groups also praised the amendment to ban fracking in Michigan. Maura Stephens, a cofounder of the Coalition to Protect New York and other grassroots groups, has been working on fracking issues for five years and will soon publish a book on the subject. "Only massive public resistance to fracking will stop the horrific industrialization of our beautiful states," Stephens said. “This truly is a matter of life and death for your way of life.”
Earlier this month, a Michigan House of Representatives Natural Gas Subcommittee report recommended that the state lease all of its mineral rights, asserting Michigan’s “natural gas renaissance is upon us.”
The state auctioned off mineral rights in 23 Michigan counties on May 8 in Lansing, including the rights under Yankee Springs State Recreation Area (a state park) in Barry County and highly populated areas in Oakland County. Residents attempting to save their communities attended the auction, registered as bidders and tried, but failed, to purchase the mineral rights to the areas around Yankee Springs.
The entire Lower Peninsula now stands to be fracked. Devon Energy is looking at the A-1 carbonate layers in Gladwin County along with other areas in the middle of the state. Encana is drilling the Utica-Collingwood shale in state forests, with several operations in progress and more pending. Densely populated areas such as Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Jackson—communities historically not affected by oil/gas drilling within their borders—are now facing the threat.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which issues frack permits and at the same time, depends on revenue from the production of gas and oil, continues to publicly confuse the facts, claiming that hydraulic fracturing has been done for more than 60 years, while not always informing the public that horizontal hydraulic fracturing is a new, as of 2002, experimental process, often referred to as a marriage of technologies between hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.