Fracking in Michigan: U-M Researchers Study
Potential Impact on Health, Environment, Economy
11/28/2012 - University of Michigan - ANN ARBOR—University of
Michigan researchers are conducting a detailed study of the
potential environmental and societal effects of hydraulic
fracturing, the controversial natural gas drilling process known as
In hydraulic fracturing, large amounts of water, sand and chemicals
are injected deep underground to break apart rock and free trapped
Though 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
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 U-M's Graham Sustainability Institute, which is
overseeing the study.
The research teams kicked off the first phase of their two-year
research project last month with support from four university units:
the Graham Sustainability Institute, the Erb Institute for Global
Sustainable Enterprise, the Energy Institute and the Risk Science
Industry representatives, nongovernmental organizations,
state government officials, academic experts and other stakeholders
are providing input.
During a policy address on energy and the environment today at
Michigan State University's W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, Gov.
Rick Snyder noted that the state will be a partner in the U-M-led
"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 U-M-led research teams 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.
Of particular interest is the increasing use of horizontal drilling,
whereby drilling is conducted horizontally to expose the drill bore
to more shale rock formation.
In those cases where shale fracturing
is required, water with added chemicals is injected into the
reservoir rock at high pressure to cause the rock to fracture and
open up for gas extraction.
"Hydraulic fracturing has been around for decades, but with
horizontal drilling now coming into play, people are increasingly
questioning and scrutinizing the risks involved," said Andrew
Maynard, professor of environmental health sciences and director of
U-M's Risk Science Center.
"Areas of concern include perceived lack of transparency, potential
chemical contamination, water availability, waste water disposal,
and impacts on ecosystems, human health and surrounding areas."
Callewaert said there are currently only a small number of active
drilling sites in Michigan that use high-volume horizontal drilling
in conjunction with hydraulic fracturing.
"There's a lot of interest, but there really isn't that much
activity at the moment in Michigan," he said. "That's why this is a
good time to do the assessment."
One of the stakeholders engaged in the project is Tip of the Mitt
Watershed Council, an environmental nonprofit organization in
northern Michigan near the Antrim Shale Formation, which stretches
through six counties across the top of Michigan's Lower Peninsula,
from Lake Michigan on the west to Lake Huron on the east.
"What concerns us is the application of horizontal hydraulic
fracturing," said Tip of the Mitt Program Director Grenetta
Thomassey, who sits on the project steering committee.
"We are very
glad to be working with the University of Michigan and the Graham
Institute in taking a proactive, multidisciplinary look at the
impacts and implications of this practice, and what to do about
them, both now and in the long run."
The two-year study uses a collaborative research methodology called
integrated assessment, which, according to Callewaert, is ideally
suited for addressing complex sustainability challenges.
"There are many different perspectives on hydraulic fracturing,"
"But, fortunately, we've been able to draw together
some exceptional researchers across multiple disciplines at U-M, as
well as several key stakeholders, in order to conduct a thorough,
unbiased assessment to help determine what new approaches might be
needed for Michigan."
Greg Fogle, a 40-year oil and gas industry veteran, is a
representative of the Michigan Oil and Gas Association, a
stakeholder in the project.
"MOGA is proud of the industry's record of conducting hydraulic
fracturing safely and without environmental incident since 1948,"
"We believe this project will demonstrate how Michigan
is a national model when it comes to regulating hydraulic fracturing
and ensuring proper safeguards for keeping water, air and land
John DeVries, a U-M Law School graduate and a steering committee
member specializing in oil and gas law, emphasized the importance of
a multifaceted investigation.
"This unbiased, science-based study will investigate not only the
potential environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing but also the
potential air quality and economic benefits of using the domestic,
low-cost natural gas produced by hydraulic fracturing for electrical
generation and manufacturing," DeVries said.
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,"
"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 Michigan 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,
U-M Energy Institute; Kim Wolske and Andrew Hoffman, the Erb
Institute; Sara Gosman, Law School; and Brian Ellis, Department of
Civil and Environmental Engineering.
As part of the investigation, research teams are soliciting input
from the public through an online comment form on the Graham
Institute website. To learn more about the study or to provide input
via the online comment tool, visit the "Problem Solving" section of
Graham Institute website
Watch and link to a
U-M video about hydraulic fracturing