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Fracking Creates Water Scarcity Issues in Michigan

Energy

respectmyplanet.org Friends of the Au Gres–Rifle Watershed

Concerns about the impact to local groundwater by massive water use—on a scale never before seen in Michigan fracking operations—are coming to a head, as the plan for Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. to use 8.4 million gallons of water to fracture a single well has been stymied by a lack of water on site.
 
Instead, the company is trucking water—nearly 1 million gallons of it in just one week—from the City of Kalkaska’s water system to meet its needs. This one fracking operation today is using more water than Kalkaska is using for all its needs over the same time period.
 
The Westerman 1-29 HD1 gas/oil well, located on Wood Road in Rapid River Township, Kalkaska County, originally permitted to Chevron Michigan, LLC, is now being operated by Encana.

Westerman gas/oil well, Kalkaska County, MI. Photo courtesy of Respect My Planet.

The permit issued by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) authorized one water well on the site. The estimated water required for the gas/oil well was 8.4 million gallons. That compares to about 10,000 gallons used to complete or “stimulate” wells in the traditional way—a massive increase in consumptive water use by the fracking industry compared to the past.

The Michigan Water Assessment Withdrawal Tool (WWAT) estimated that 900 gallons per minute could be removed safely from the site and would cause no adverse resource impact. As it turns out, there isn’t enough water available on the site to provide 900 gallons per minute, let alone be safely removed.

An additional eight water wells were drilled on the site but apparently they did not produce either. Starting on May 31, water began being removed from the Kalkaska municipal water system to frack the gas/oil well.

Water truck filling at municipal fire hydrant in Kalkaska, MI. Photo courtesy of Respect My Planet.

The municipal withdrawal did not come close to supplying the water necessary to complete the Westerman well, so on Saturday, another water well was drilled off site in the surrounding field.

Drilling new water well off site. Photo courtesy of Respect My Planet.

That water well also failed to produce sufficient water and trucks running around the clock continued to haul more than 900,000 gallons of water from the Kalkaska municipal system over the weekend. At last report on June 4, the water was still being trucked to the well site from the municipal water supply.

“If the citizens of Michigan knew corporations were destroying hundreds of millions of gallons of Michigan water—water that is supposedly protected by government for use by all of us—they would be opposing this new kind of completion technique," stated Paul Brady, a local resident and leading contributor of respectmyplanet.org. "These deep shale unconventional wells are using massive amounts of water without adequate testing and solid data on aquifer capacity.”

Brady noted that the new fracking methods permanently remove water from Michigan’s watersheds. It is polluted with chemicals, shoved deep into the ground and never returned to the water cycle. Encana has stated in shareholder presentations that up to 500 wells are planned for Michigan. Five new wells were permitted in Excelsior Township last week that estimate using 152,000,000 gallons of water. Eight more permit applications are pending.

The water use for these types of wells in Michigan is unprecedented. There is no gas or oil play in the U.S. that is using this much water per well.

The Michigan DEQ has taken some steps recently to try and deal with the astounding amounts of water destroyed by modern fracking. But as of today, the primary tools that they are using to determine the adverse impact to our water are inadequate to even judge how much water is available in any given location (as demonstrated by the Westerman well situation), never mind how much can be safely removed. Michigan has no groundwater maps of this area; state officials don’t know how much water withdrawal our aquifers in Kalkaska County can support.

However, there is a way to find this out: Do a pump aquifer yield test. State officials should require this testing whenever withdrawals of this magnitude are proposed for any reason, not just oil and gas exploration.

“This is not about the gas and oil industry,” says Brady. “We wholeheartedly support the Michigan oil and gas worker: They are our neighbors, family and friends here in Kalkaska. We are confident local oil and gas workers value the water as much as we do.”  

Elected officials often remind us that water is by far our most precious resource. They need to step in and ensure that such massive quantities are not misused in this manner, and that unsustainable well drilling is not allowed. 

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

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Sign the petition today, telling President Obama to enact an immediate fracking moratorium:

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Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.

Thaís Borges.

An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

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Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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