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Anti-fracking campaign expects to launch next month

Joshua Doubek
Creative Commons

The campaign to ban the drilling process known as “fracking” plans to launch a petition drive next month. This will be the third time the anti-fracking campaign has tried to get lawmakers or voters to adopt a ban.

Earlier efforts fell short, but LuAnn Kozma of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan says the ongoing controversy about drilling has helped the cause.

“I think people are getting it,” she said. “When they hear about fracking, they don’t want it.”

A state elections board has given its OK to the petition form, which allows the signature gathering to begin. Kozma says the campaign plans to start in late May, and has set a goal of gathering 350,000 signatures in six months. It will take 252,523 signatures of registered voters to put the initiative before the Legislature to adopt. If lawmakers don’t approve the law, the question would go on the November 2016 ballot.

Hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” -- is a drilling method where a fluid made of water, chemicals and sand is forced into rock. That causes splits that allow energy developers to extract oil and gas. Critics say the chemicals pose risks to water supplies and people’s health. The state of Michigan’s position is its rules are strict enough to ensure “fracking” does not pose a risk to the public.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce tried to forestall the petition drive by asking the elections board to find the petition language does not conform to the state constitution’s requirements to enact a law. The bipartisan Board of State Canvassers rejected the argument and voted 3-0 to allow the drive to go forward. The approval is not legally required, but it does inoculate ballot drives from technical challenges after the fact.

State elections officials say the board can only deal with technical issues like the proper type size and placement of paragraphs.  Other challenges would have to go to court.

“If I were circulating petitions, I would want some indication of whether they meet constitutional standards,” said Gary Gordon, an attorney for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. “All the board said was these have the right type size and the correct disclaimers and didn’t look at any of the substantive issues at all.”

Gordon said he didn’t know whether the chamber will take the issue to court. But Chamber of Commerce President Richard Studley issued a statement saying voters should decline to sign the petitions.

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