U-M researchers are conducting a detailed study of the potential environmental and societal effects of hydraulic fracturing, the controversial natural gas drilling process known as fracking.
In hydraulic fracturing, large amounts of water, sand and chemicals are injected deep underground to break apart rock and free trapped natural gas. Although the process has been used for decades, recent technical advances have helped unlock vast stores of previously inaccessible natural gas, resulting in a fracking boom.
Now U-M researchers are working with government regulators, oil and gas industry representatives and environmental groups to explore seven critical areas related to the use of hydraulic fracturing in Michigan: human health, the environment and ecology, economics, technology, public perception, law and policy, and geology/hydrodynamics.
Detailed technical reports on the seven subject areas are to be released early next year for public comment.
“While there have been numerous scientific studies about hydraulic fracturing in the United States, none have been conducted with a focus on Michigan,” said John Callewaert, director of integrated assessment at the Graham Sustainability Institute, which is overseeing the study.
The research teams kicked off the first phase of their two-year research project in October with support from four university units: the Graham Sustainability Institute, the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, the Energy Institute and the Risk Science Center. Industry representatives, nongovernmental organizations, state government officials, academic experts and other stakeholders are providing input.
During a policy address on energy and the environment last week at Michigan State University’s W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, Gov. Rick Snyder noted that the state would join the U-M-led fracking study.
“We’re going to be a partner with the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute on doing a study on where fracking’s going,” Snyder said. “Fracking is something that is very serious and it needs to be done the right way.
“Let’s be at the forefront of being environmentally responsible when we look at these energy issues. And let’s do this in a way where we’re working together.”
The research teams led by U-M will draw on their findings for the second phase of the project, which will outline a range of environmental, economic, social and technological approaches to assist stakeholders in shaping hydraulic fracturing policies and practices in Michigan. The researchers will present their overall findings and policy recommendations in 2014.
Erb Institute Director Andrew Hoffman is one of the researchers working on the social issues and public perception report.
“Hydraulic fracturing has the potential to touch issues that virtually all Michigan residents care about: drinking water, air quality, Great Lakes health, water supply, local land use, energy security, economic growth, tourism and natural resource protection,” Hoffman said. “In the end, our goal is to provide valuable insights and information to help address these important and legitimate concerns here in the Great Lakes State.”
In addition to the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council and MOGA, other stakeholders and organizations engaged in the “Hydraulic Fracturing in Michigan Integrated Assessment” include the governor’s office, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Michigan Environmental Council.
U-M researchers include: Nil Basu, School of Public Health; Allen Burton, School of Natural Resources and Environment; Knute Nadelhoffer, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Rolland Zullo, Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy; Johannes Schwank, Department of Chemical Engineering; John Wilson, Energy Institute; Kim Wolske and Andrew Hoffman, Erb Institute; Sara Gosman, Law School; and Brian Ellis, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
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