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Worried about fracking, citizens group sues the DNR

Steve Losher lives in Barry county, and he's worried. So worried, he and the rest of the citizens in the non-profit group called the Michigan Land Air Water Defense are suing the state. 

They're upset about what they believe could happen once the Department of Natural Resources auctions off the mineral rights to gaming areas in Barry and Allagen counties. It's a totally typical auction - the DNR does this kind of thing twice a year since about 1920. 

But Losher and his group are worried now because of what they think oil and gas companies will want to do with those mineral rights. All the easily accessible natural gas is already gone, they say - so the only way to get at what's left is to go deep. Really deep. Like, horizontal hydraulic fracturing deep: aka, horizontal "fracking."

That's an especially controversial kind of fracking, because it drills down a mile or two below the earth and then it goes for another mile or two in a (you guessed it) horizontal direction. On one hand, it lets energy companies set up on some land adjacent to fragile areas and still get at the resources beneath the fragile stuff, without actually putting their drills on top.

And in order to get so deep, energy companies have to use a massive amount of water mixed with some pretty nasty chemicals in order to break through all that rock and shale. 

And it's those chemicals that Losher and his group are concerned about. When drillers have to use that much water, and that much harmful contaminants, how do you make absolutely sure that none of it hurts people or the environment?

It's not a problem, according to oil and gas companies. They say they store that polluted water so far below the ground, it doesn't get into the public's water supply.

And it's worth noting, fracking is great in a lot of ways. It boosts our domestic energy supplies. It creates jobs. And it's lot less harmful than coal or oil when it comes to emitting greenhouse gases. 

The DNR says they're planning to fight the lawsuit in court.

It could be months before a hearing takes place, according to the Barry County Circuit Court. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.