Over 300 million years ago, our region was a vast shallow sea with abundant sea life. This former seabed is now layers of shale thousands of feet below ground holding natural gas. Breaking up the shale under high pressure and high volumes of fluids, known as fracking, is how the industry releases the gas from the shale.Almost every Great Lake state and province is impacted by this intensive form of gas drilling. Below are updates on some recent happenings on fracking. Please visit our state by state guide for more detail and to find a citizen group near you that is working on this issue.
New York: Let’s start on a happy note! In December 2014, the state of New York banned fracking, referencing a public health study that documented air quality, water quality, earthquake risks and social risks to the community from fracking activity.
Pennsylvania: In the US, 89% of natural gas is being supplied by Pennsylvania. A number of different studies have documented drinking water contamination and other impacts. It wasn’t until last August that the State of Pennsylvania publicly admitted that more than 243 drinking water sources were contaminated from fracking related activities.
Ontario: Natural gas development in Ontario adds an element that is not legal in the US—off-shore drilling in the Great Lakes. Currently there are a few companies that have expressed interest in fracking shale for natural gas in south western Ontario. In 2013, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ministry of the Environment undertook a requested review of the regulations under the Environmental Protection Act in relation to the management of fracking fluid waste. As of print time the review was not completed and no deadline has been announced.
Illinois: In May 2013 two competing bills—one for a moratorium on fracking and another approving specific regulations for fracking went to vote. Unfortunately, the moratorium lost and Illinois became another Great Lakes state ready to enter the fracking boom. The law requires companies to register 30 days prior to applying for a permit. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources website shows only one company has registered to date.
Ohio: The Ohio Supreme Court ruled on February 20, 2015 in a 4-3 vote that local units of government do not have the right to regulate fracking activities. The dissenting opinion by Justice William O’Neill pointed out that “the oil and gas industry has gotten its way….What the drilling industry has bought and paid for in campaign contributions they shall receive.” Ohio’s oil and gas industry contributed $1.4 million into campaign coffers for state officials, $8000 and $7,200 to the justices that wrote the majority opinion for the other side (Columbus Dispatch). However, the Attorney General and our partner Ohio Environmental Council are calling for strengthened penalties on operators for violations, full disclosure of chemicals, and increased landowner rights.
Michigan: Lower natural gas prices may be one reason why fracking has been slow to take off in Michigan with only 13 high volume, hydrofracking wells drilled to date in Michigan. However, oil and gas companies continue to lease large areas of state mineral rights. On the regulatory front, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality plans to release new rules to regulate oil and gas drilling sometime in 2015. Separately, a study conducted by the University of Michigan Graham Institute looked to identify “what are the best environmental, economic, social and technological approaches for managing hydraulic fracturing in the State of Michigan.”