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Public hearings on proposed "fracking" rules wraps up, ballot campaign could follow

Member of the public with a “No Fracking” sticker on her clothes as she testifies before a panel of environmental regulators.
Rick Pluta

State environmental regulators will put the finishing touches on new rules regarding “fracking” now that public hearings have wrapped up. They expect to have the new rules adopted by the end of the year, but the state’s rules may not be the final word on the controversial drilling process

“Fracking” is a drilling method that pushes water and chemicals into wells to force out oil and gas deposits.

In two days of hearings in Gaylord and Lansing, many people complained the proposed rules don’t do enough to protect land and water. And many said they’d like to see fracking banned altogether.

A ballot campaign to do just that fizzled last year. But LuAnnKozma says “fracking” foes have now set their sights on the 2016 statewide ballot. She says polling shows growing skepticism about “fracking.”         

“Those numbers are showing us there’s increased awareness and with that that awareness, people do not want ‘fracking,’” said Kozma. “We know that the interest is there, and also what’s different this time around is that with the growing awareness, the polling is showing that the people are against ‘fracking’ as they find out more about it.”

Kozma says the ballot campaign will spend the rest of this year organizing and fundraising, and start collecting signatures next year to put an initiative to ban fracking on the ballot.

The energy industry and the DEQ say 60,000 wells have been “fracked” in Michigan without major problems, and that’s proof it can be done safely.

Developer Bill Myler spoke on behalf of the Michigan Oil and Gas Association. He says new rule aren’t necessary, but the industry considers the DEQ’s proposal an acceptable balance.

“Given the outcry on the hydraulic fracturing issue, we certainly see why people are concerned, and we see why the DEQ wants to make a few adjustments, and strengthen our already good rules, and if it makes people feel more comfortable and it does strengthen the rules, then we are on board with that.”

DEQ officials say the rules are designed more to provide more transparency and information to the public than to address safety issues. They say the industry already has a safe record.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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