Canadian firm EnCana plans fracking campaign that could require 4 billion gallons of Michigan water

Canadian firm plans fracking campaign that could require 4 billion gallons of Michigan water by Jeff Alexander, June 25, 2013, Bridge Magazine
KALKASKA — A Canadian firm has laid out plans to drill 500 new natural gas wells in Northern Michigan, using a technique that could consume more than 4 billion gallons of groundwater — or about as much water as Traverse City uses in two years. The firm, Encana Corp., will rely on hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” a technique cloaked in controversy that requires large amounts of water, mixed with chemicals and other elements, to break down rock formations and release natural gas. Encana, for example, used 8.5 million gallons of groundwater earlier this month to frack a single gas well, the Westerman in Kalkaska County, east of Traverse City. Because most of the water used in fracking becomes contaminated and is left in geologic formations deep underground, a recent surge in drilling by Encana and other companies has raised concerns that fracking could drain water from some of the state’s best rivers. Encana recently drilled several new wells into the Collingwood shale formation, which lies about two miles underground. That’s the first step in a plan to drill 500 more deep shale wells in the region using fracking, according to company records. The company’s plan to drill several new gas wells near Kalkaska will entail pumping about 300 million gallons of water out of the ground, injecting that water into several gas well bores and then leaving nearly all of the contaminated water in the ground when the fracking is completed, according to state records. The result: A net loss of up to 300 million gallons of groundwater to the North Branch of the Manistee River, a blue-ribbon trout stream fed almost entirely by groundwater. One of Encana’s drilling sites is a half-mile from the Manistee River’s North Branch, according to company records.

“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 (fracking) technique,” said Paul Brady, a fracking watchdog who lives near Kalkaska. “These deep shale, unconventional wells are using massive amounts of water without adequate testing and solid data on aquifer capacity.” Encana spokesman Doug Hock, however, is optimistic: “Can we access the (deep shale gas) and still protect the environment? Absolutely.”

State’s Monitoring Questioned, Defended

Michigan’s Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool, a computer-based program launched in 2006, was supposed to prevent water withdrawals that could harm streams and rivers. The tool is Michigan’s first line of defense against excessive water withdrawals, but it was developed before drillers began using large quantities of water when fracking deep shale gas wells here. Scientists, lawyers and Michigan courts have said the tool and other state estimates of stream flows are deeply flawed. If true, such a problem could result in the state inadvertently approving large water withdrawals that hurt rivers and streams. Researchers at Michigan State University recently found several sites where the state’s water tool over-estimated the volume of water in small headwater streams that feed the Manistee River. “In some watersheds, we are seeing that the assumed flows (calculated by the state’s water tool) are much higher than we measured. In one case the tool was off by a factor of three,” said David Hyndman, a hydrogeologist, professor and chairman of MSU’s Department of Geological Sciences. Those findings were significant for three reasons, Hyndman said: Many of the Collingwood shale gas wells are being drilled in the ecologically fragile headwater areas of rivers; headwater streams are critically important to the health of entire river systems; and the state does little monitoring in headwater streams, where rivers originate.

Since 2008, the DEQ has issued 52 permits for large, fracking-related water withdrawals. Another 17 permits are pending, according to state data. Fracking critics said recent problems at the Westerman gas well in Kalkaska County — where water wells didn’t produce as predicted and drillers had to truck in 3 million of gallons of water from Kalkaska and Mancelona to complete the fracking process — highlighted flaws in the water assessment tool. Encana’s Hock and DEQ officials blamed the problem on “geologic conditions” unrelated to the water assessment tool.

In 2005, the DEQ planned to issue a permit allowing an oil company to discharge 1.15 million gallons of slightly contaminated groundwater daily into Kolke Creek, the headwaters of the Au Sable River. The DEQ claimed that the index (or average) flow in Kolke Creek was about 6,000 gallons per minute, enough to dilute the oil company’s contaminated water without harming the creek. As part of a lawsuit challenging the DEQ permit, independent scientists proved that the state’s estimate of Kolke Creek’s index flow was up to 100 times greater than the actual flow. A state circuit court concluded that the state’s estimate of the flow in Kolke Creek was inaccurate and blocked the proposed discharge of polluted water into creek. The DEQ appealed but the state Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling.

Encana officials said the oil and gas industry wants to export natural gas extracted from shale formations in Michigan and other states to consumers in Asia.

Michigan Chamber of Commerce Supports Responsible Energy Exploration; Opposes Job-Killing Petition Drive to Ban Hydraulic Fracturing in Michigan Press Release, May 8, 2013, PRNewswire
The Michigan Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors has voted unanimously to support responsible oil and gas exploration in Michigan and to oppose any attempt to ban the use of hydraulic fracturing, including a false and misleading petition drive now underway by irresponsible environmental groups. … “The dangerous petition drive to ban hydraulic fracturing is based on emotion, not sound science, and worse yet, it is a direct attack by environmental extremists on a key industry that provides good jobs and energy independence for our state,” Studley added. “In Michigan, hydraulic fracturing has been used for over 50 years without a single negative impact on human health or the environment,” noted Jason Geer, Director of Energy & Environmental Policy for the Michigan Chamber. “With over 12,000 wells drilled using this technique, hydraulic fracturing has clearly been proven safe. … “In November of last year, Michigan voters overwhelmingly rejected an attempt by out-of-state interests with a national agenda to set energy policy by petition drive,” continued Holcomb. “We’re confident that when presented with the facts about oil and gas exploration in Michigan, voters will once again reject the dangerous ballot proposal.” [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

Scientists warn that Earth faces severe water shortages within a generation

Fracking could limit water, study says, Fracking Is Draining Western Water

AEA: Support to the identification of potential risks for the environment and human health arising from hydrocarbons operations involving hydraulic fracturing in Europe ”A proportion (25% to 100%) of the water used in hydraulic fracturing is not recovered, and consequently this water is lost permanently to re-use, which differs from some other water uses in which water can be recovered and processed for re-use.” [Emphasis added]

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