Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Fracking critics protest Michigan's oil, gas exploration lease auction

Story Appeared on The Detroit News

Lansing — The state Department of Natural Resources leased $1.4 million for oil and natural gas exploration on 36,970 acres of public land Thursday while hydraulic fracturing opponents protested.
Although exploration firms bought five-year leases on more than 98 percent of the land available at auction, 11 acres south of Rochester in Oakland County didn't attract any bids. Lease rates averaged $36.66 per acre, DNR spokesman Ed Golder said.

Opponents of hydraulic fracturing gathered outside a meeting room where the auction was held in the Lansing Center.

"We believe hydraulic fracturing should be banned and stopped in Michigan," said Charlevoix resident Ellis Boal, an attorney involved in a petition-circulation drive that aims to bring the oil and gas extraction method, also known as "fracking," to a state-wide vote in 2014.

Security was heavy. DNR and Lansing Police officers were almost as numerous as the 40 or so protesters who came from around the state.

Officers were checking bags and brief cases carried by those showing up to bid on parcels mostly concentrated in northern Lower Peninsula counties.

Golder said there were seven arrests when the DNR held its last oil and gas lease auction in October — after demonstrators became disruptive and entered the bidding room. There were no arrests Thursday.
The 37,652 acres up for bid Thursday was down from the average of about 100,000 acres. Revenue from the leases is earmarked for public land purchases and recreational area improvements.

Such auctions have been held since 1929 and hydraulic fracturing has been used for 50 years in Michigan with few problems. But concern has heightened because of controversies in other states about techniques such as horizontal drilling.

The fracking technique uses a water/chemical mixture pumped under high pressure to fracture shale rock formations and unleash oil or natural gas that can be pumped back to the surface.

Gov. Rick Snyder wants more exploration of Michigan's natural gas deposits to decrease dependence on coal from other states for energy generation.

But demonstrator Kurt Gleichman of Saline argued the state is selling the five-year leases at bargain prices and creating more reliance on fossil fuels that exacerbate climate change.

Exploration firms nominate the parcels, which then must be cleared by the DNR and Department of Environmental Quality.