COLUMBUS -- Laws in Ohio and Michigan will not adequately protect the Great Lakes basin from huge water withdrawals to fuel an expected shale oil and natural gas drilling boom, a report from the National Wildlife Federation charged Thursday.
There are few deep hydraulic fracturing wells within the watersheds in either state now, but the interest is there.
The only active such well within the Lake Erie watershed in Ohio is in Geauga County, according to Sara Gosman, the wildlife federation water resources attorney and a University of Michigan law lecturer who wrote the report with students.
"There is certainly leasing [of rights] in that area," she said. "Chesapeake is leasing. BP is in Trumbull County. The potential is there."
In the waning weeks of the just-completed spring legislative voting session, Ohio lawmakers sent Gov. John Kasich House Bill 473 regulating water withdrawals from the Lake Erie watershed and Senate Bill 315 preparing for an expected expansion of Utica shale oil and natural gas exploration.
Hydraulic fracturing, often called "fracking," generally refers to the use of water, chemicals, and sand at high pressure to fracture underground shale to release oil and natural gas trapped inside.
Ohio's energy bill regulates construction, monitoring, pre-testing, and insuring of fracking operations as well as the storage of waste brine in injection wells.
So far, the focus of hydraulic fracturing has been on eastern Ohio from the Mahoning Valley south. But while far from Lake Erie, the rivers and streams that feed the lake reach well south of the lake to encompass roughly a third of northern Ohio.
Michigan has a history of hydraulic fracturing, but improved technology has led to more interest recently in deep wells that pose a greater threat to the watershed, according to Grenetta Thomassey, program director of the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council in northern Michigan.
"This lull is no indication of the kind of activity we're going to have if they strike it rich, if you will,'' she said.
The study determined that Ohio's newly passed energy law is stronger than Michigan law. But it noted that Ohio's law will not require fracturing operations to test the fluids used or to disclose the chemicals involved before production.
Post-production disclosure is required, but the report notes that the companies can attempt to withhold that information under the argument that it is a trade secret.
"There are many aspects of Ohio law that the researchers may not be familiar with," said Carlo Loparo, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
"For example," Mr. Loparo said, "while it is true that there are no federal regulations subjecting hydraulic fracturing to the Safe Drinking Water Act, Ohio enacted its own Safe Drinking Water Act that protects groundwater and drinking water from contamination. That law was enacted in 2000."
He said Ohio's law is among the strictest in the nation in terms of well construction and chemical disclosure.
"Before drilling begins, they must test all water sources within 1,500 feet of the proposed well and provide that information to ODNR," Mr. Loparo said.
"That is available to the public. That provides a baseline on water safety for the public and other agencies."
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.