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Oil and gas drilling in Michigan down significantly

Hydraulic fracturing rig
flickr user Eusko Jaurlaritza

Drilling for oil and gas in Michigan is down to levels not seen since the Great Depression.

And so far, newer methods of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, are not producing a new boom for the industry.

The number of permits issued for new oil and gas wells so far this year is on track to be the lowest in more than 80 years.

Mark Snow handles permits for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He says the markets are glutted with oil and natural gas, so prices are down.

“If things aren’t economic, based on the prices out there, companies just won’t be looking to drill,” Snow says.

Even if the economics were better, it is not clear there would be much new drilling in Michigan.

Bill Harrison is a geologist at Western Michigan University. He says the industry hasn’t discovered any new reservoirs here for decades.

"Historically, something new has always come along about once every 20 or 30 years,” he says. “So, I wouldn’t be surprised if a new discovery occurs somewhere in Michigan, but there’s nothing really yet that’s definitive.” 

In 2010, companies spent hundreds of millions of dollars to drill deep wells using relatively newer methods of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. That generated a lot of controversy.

But the company that led that development left Michigan last year and only five of those wells are still in production.

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