Tag: water withdrawal

Michigan Officials Direct Nestlé to Reexamine Impact to Freshwater Resources of Increased Pumping Proposal


Acting in part on scientific evidence developed and submitted by FLOW and our expert team, the Michigan Department of Environmental has directed Swiss water-bottling giant Nestlé to reassess the likely impact on local wetlands, streams, and natural springs of its application to dramatically increase water extraction to 210 million gallons a year near Evart, northeast of Big Rapids. 

The state action is an important step forward in protecting vulnerable water resources, as Nestlé Ice Mountain seeks a state permit to more than double its spring water withdrawal from the current rate of 150 gallons-per-minute (gpm) to 400 gpm, or as much as 576,000 gallons-per-day, from its White Pine Springs well No. 101 in the headwaters of Chippewa and Twin creeks in Osceola County.

“Staff have endeavored to complete their review with the information provided and, in light of input from Nestlé’s experts, have concluded that the information, analysis, data, and explanation provided does not yet provide the DEQ with a reasonable basis to make the determination if the requirements” in the law will be met, James Gamble of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality wrote the company on June 21.

The DEQ requested that Nestlé provide, among other things, a revised groundwater model using improved methods to evaluate the interaction between the streams, aquifers, and wetlands and detailed water budget analyses – including sources of water and assumptions – during wet, normal and dry years.

“It shows that science and law still matter and must come before corporate schemes to turn the public’s water into a private commodity,” said Jim Olson, FLOW’s president and founder, who as a Traverse City environmental attorney previously fought Nestlé in court on behalf of the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. “The DEQ should be commended for upholding the law to its highest standard, which is to require evidence of actual impact before approving the permit.”

It is the second time the DEQ has sought more information on Nestlé's July 2016 permit application for the highly controversial proposal, which is part of the company’s $36 million planned expansion of its Ice Mountain bottling plant in Stanwood. Hundreds of people in April attended a state public hearing to oppose to permit, and tens of thousands submitted public comments in opposition.

The MDEQ is reviewing Nestle's application under Section 17 of the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act, a regulation specific to Michigan water bottlers developed in response to environmental concerns sparked by Nestle's original Sanctuary Springs wellfield. It's the first Section 17 application to be reviewed since the law passed. The statute is tie-barred with the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, which states that groundwater pumping must have no "individual or cumulative adverse resource impacts."

In reviewing Nestlé's application this spring, FLOW requested that a team of scientists – Dave Hyndman, PhD, an expert in hydrogeology, and Mark Luttenton, PhD, with expertise in stream and wetlands – review the Nestlé application. 

Dr. Hyndman’s evaluation found that Nestlé’s “application does not fully evaluate the existing hydrologic, hydrogeological, or other physical and environmental conditions because: (1) Data collected between 2001 and the onset of pumping in 2009 do not appear to be used or evaluated; (2) The seven or eight years of data on the effects of pumping at 150 gpm when pumping started in 2009 have not been used or evaluated.”

Dr. Luttenton found that the information submitted and evaluated is insufficient for the MDEQ to make a determination of effects, impacts, harms, and impairment of Nestle’s proposal, including likely impacts on:

-Fish species
-Invertebrate communities
-Existing physical conditions, including upstream or in surrounding seeps and unnamed small creeks
-Wetlands and plant species

“Based on my analysis to date, my opinion is that the water withdrawal by Nestlé’s [proposal] will, or is very likely to cause environmental impacts to the surface water resources in the region,” Dr. Luttenton concluded. “In addition, my opinion is that during low flow and low water level conditions, there is inadequate water in the Chippewa Creek, Twin Creek, and other surface water features, to prevent probable impairment, degradation, or harm to the aquatic and ecological system, including fish and fish habitat.”

Fracking: It’s All About the Water

Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for oil and gas in Michigan is the subject of scrutiny in the recent Integrated Assessment report series from the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute.  The report confirms that the future development of tight shale formations appears to be massive and intensive in size and scope and will require unprecedented quantities of water to explore and produce these reserves.

How are oil and natural gas wells are being developed in fracking?
First a large pad is cleared, then as many as 6 or more wells are drilled on this one pad known as a “resource hub,” Then, several of these “resource hubs” are developed within close proximity to each other. Clusters of these hubs are then widely developed across townships and counties. Over the next several years, just one oil and gas company, Encana, plans to develop as many as 500 hundred wells in Kalkaska County, Michigan. Each resource hub can consume 90 to 180 millions of gallons of fresh water or more. The most recent numbers in Kalkaska County, Michigan—where fracking operations of this intense nature are underway—show that a group of these hubs in close proximity are presently using or plan to use more than 618 million gallons of water. As fracking expands in Kalkaska, reports indicate that number will be in the billions.

How will these unprecedented water withdrawals impact the groundwater and the streams and lakes within the watershed where the fracking is occurring?
The answer is no one knows. Current Michigan DNR and DEQ procedures do not measure the cumulative impact of these numerous wells and resource hubs on a local watershed and the impact on the nearby streams and lakes in that watershed. Each well permit which includes the amount of water withdrawn is approved independent of each other and does not take into account the amount of water withdrawn by the other wells on the pad and nearby hubs. It’s as if the other wells did not exist.

This is deeply concerning when put in the broader context of Michigan groundwater withdrawals. Bridge Magazine recently reported that 12 Michigan counties are already facing groundwater shortages. In light of present groundwater availability concerns, the increased consumption of groundwater for fracking operations will likely exacerbate the situation. Under current DEQ procedures for oil and gas drilling permits, there is no assurance our government can or will adequately protect our groundwater, lakes, and streams from these current and future massive water withdrawals.

What happens to all this water?
To frack the shale gas or oil reserves deep underground, these massive quantities of water are mixed with a cocktail of chemicals, many hazardous and/or known carcinogens, and sand. In Michigan, after a well is fracked, the contaminated water (“flowback”) is not treated, but is transported and disposed of in deep injection wells. What this means is that such massive quantities of water will never return to to the water cycle. We consider this a “consumptive” use of water. Other major concerns include the handling of the contaminated water. And, fracking is exempt from key federal and state regulation, including the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. In short, these massive quantities of water are gone forever after used in the fracking process.

What can be done?
FLOW’s Chairperson, Jim Olson, and Executive Director, Liz Kirkwood, submitted comments to the Graham Institute. To strengthen water resource protections, FLOW recommends that the State of Michigan:

  • Require development plan(s) and generic or cumulative environmental impacts and alternatives as required under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) before a lease or leases and permit or permits are finally approved or denied;
  • Refine and strengthen all aspects of the Michigan Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool (WWAT) and require baseline hydrogeological studies and pump aquifer yield tests; and
  • Encourage cooperation between state regulations and appropriate local regulation of land use, water use, and related activities to address potential local impacts.

To learn more about FLOW’s research and recommendations, please read our Executive Summary or our Full Recommendations submitted by Olson and Kirkwood to the Graham Institute.

For more about FLOW’s work on fracking, visit flowforwater.org/fracking

Kalkaska County: The centre of fracking in the Great Lakes Basin

Guest Blogger and FLOW Board Member Emma Lui is the Water Campaign Director for the Council of Canadians. She shared her recent blog post with us about her recent trip to Kalkaska, MI. Read the original post on canadians.org

Driving into Kalkaska County, the welcome sign displays a picture of an oil well which is indicative of the history of oil and gas drilling in the county.

Welcome sign to Kalkaska, MIFLOW’s Communications Director Eric Olson and I drove 30 minutes outside of Traverse City Monday afternoon to the neighbouring county of Kalkaska. Kalkaska is an economically depressed community and many closed stores on Kalkaska’s downtown are a stark indication of that.

We met with Paul Brady, a ‘fracking watchdog’ according to media reports, who took us to see some of Encana’s well sites. The first well site we visited was the Excelsior 1-13 well in Excelsior Township, one of Kalkaska’s twelve townships. The site stores equipment and produces gas but minimal compared to some of Encana’s other well sites. But Encana has plans to expand the number of horizontal wells at this site. The development of the original site destroyed wetlands and some residents are concerned that Encana’s expansion will further destroy wetlands in the area.

Excelsior Well operated by EncanaKalkaska has become the centre of fracking in Michigan with more fracking permits and active applications than any other county in the state. What’s more, not only is Canadian company Encana planning to frack 500 new deep shale wells in the area but they are also breaking records with the amount of water they are using to frack Kalkaska’s wells. According to the National Wildlife Federation’s report Hydraulic Fracturing in the Great Lakes Basin: The State of Play in Michigan in Ohio, most fracked wells in the Utica shale use between 7.5 and 22.7 million litres of water but Encana has reported that it used 45 million litres of groundwater per well to frack the Excelsior 2-25and Garfield 1-25 wells and 80 million litres of groundwater to frack its Excelsior 3-25 well. Recent news reports revealed that Ecana wants to withdraw 15 billion litres of water for the 500 new wells they plan to frack.

Michigan may soon be the state with the most fracking within the Great Lakes Basin, making Kalkaska County the centre of fracking in the Great Lakes Basin. Ohio and Pennsylvania are Great Lakes states with a significant amount of fracking but most of the fracking within these states occurs outside of the Basin.

Encana brine tanks fracking Kalkaska

 

Next we drove down a dirt road called Sunset Trail and arrived at what Paul calls “Michigan’s first superpad,” known as the Oliver pad. The pad currently has three wells, which were completed in November of 2011 and are now producing wells. There are five more to come, for a total of eight wells. Standing on a small hill just outside the Oliver pad, we saw Encana’s holding tanks of condensate and brine. The site is clean, neat and almost sparse, with no traces of the toxic mixture that Encana used to frack the three wells on site – a very different picture from when the wells were being fracked. But the real threat is what can’t be seen above ground. Encana will draw groundwater in Kalkaska resulting in the loss of approximately 1.1 billion litres from the North Branch of the Manistee River. The North Branch of the Manistee River, a coldwater trout stream, is roughly 1400 feet from where we stood looking at the fracked wells of the Oliver pad.

Emma Lui fracking kalkaskaAs we walked on Sunset Trail which is in the Pere Marquette State Forest, Paul tells us the story of how back in May 2012, Team Services, a company contracted out by Encana, sprayed over 150,000 litres of fracking flowback on the very road we were walking on.

We drove down a few roads and arrived at the North Branch of the Manistee River. It looks small and unassuming but is a tributary to the Manistee River, which itself is a winding river of over 300 kilometres that eventually snakes its way to Lake Michigan. As mentioned, Encana’s fracking projects will result in the loss of approximately 1.1 billion litres from the North Branch.

Kalkaska wastewater

Encana has other well sites in the county including the Garfield well in Garfield Township which used 45 million litres of water in December 2012 as well as the Westerman well site in Rapid River Township where residents have raised concerns about water well failures after fracking began.

Encana’s proposed fracking plans are a threat to the county’s water sources, Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes Basin. The shorelines of Lake Michigan are already under stress, with Lakes Michigan, Ontario and Erie having the highest levels of cumulative stress. Several municipalities in Michigan have already placed a moratorium on fracking.

The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan has begun a statewide ballot initiative to “prohibit the new type of horizontal fracking and frack wastes in Michigan.” 258, 088 signatures are required in order for Michigan to hold a referendum on the issue in 2014. Click here to endorse this initiative.

As Maude Barlow points out in her report Our Great Lakes Commons: A People’s Plan to Protect the Great Lakes Forever, while there are many political jurisdictions governing the Great Lakes Basin, it is, in fact, one integrated watershed and needs to be seen and governed as such. We need to work towards banning fracking around the lakes in order to protect the entire Great Lakes Basin.

To read background information about fracking in Michigan, click here.
To view more pictures from this trip, click here.

Emma Lui’s blog