Ahead of potential natural gas drilling in Northern Michigan, Freshwater Future, a Petoskey-based nonprofit conservation group, is rolling out a program that will allow homeowners to test their well water.
Doug Hock, a spokesman for Encana Corporation which is interested in drilling gas wells in Northern Michigan, said Encana already offers testing to homeowners who live near areas where wells might be drilled.
"As a matter of policy, Encana tests all domestic wells within a half mile radius of the wellhead and within a quarter mile of the lateral portion of the well if approved by the landowner," said Hock.
Encana's testing is done at an independent lab and is free of charge, said Hock.
Freshwater Future's testing will allow homeowners to have a certified sample of their water and what is in it before hydraulic fracturing wells are drilled. Though Michigan has drilled for gas using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for decades, a new type of fracking is targeting the Collingwood shale, much deeper than the previously fracked Antrim Shale — about 5,000 feet for Collingwood compared to 500-2,000 feet for Antrim shale.
The method of fracking injects a mix of water, fracking fluids and sand under high pressure into shale to release gas.
Some critics worry that fracking rock formations could lead to contaminated ground water and well water, either by migration of the fracking fluids underground or by the flowback of fracking fluids after a portion of the fluids come back to the surface of the earth.
Freshwater Future is first targeting people who live within about a mile radius of the well sites, said Gary Street, science and engineering consultant for Freshwater Future. The wells currently targeted are located in Kalkaska County.
The program comes on the heels of news that Encana Corporation, a Canadian-based natural gas producer, could drill up to 500 wells in Northern Michigan.
Not necessarily so, said Hock, who is based in Denver.
“We’re in the very early stages of exploration,” said Hock. “I think there has been some reports out there that we’re going to drill 500 wells. That is not the case. That came from an investor presentation, that we were looking at the best-case scenario.”
Since 2011, Encana has drilled nine wells in Kalkaska County. Hock said Encana is primarily interested in Cheboygan, Kalkaska and Missaukee counties. Street said Freshwater Future will first focus on homes near targeted sites, and will offer the program to homeowners in Cheboygan, Emmet, Kalkaska and Missaukee counties.
“The program is being initiated to allow homeowners who are living in the vicinity of where the well would be drilled for fracturing to get background data before any fracturing goes on,” said Street.
For a fee, homeowners can opt to have their water tested in two ways, based on Department of Environmental Quality tiers. Tier 1 tests for inorganic material such as methane, chloride, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and zylene. Benzene is a known carcinogen, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and is often used in fracking fluids. Tier 2 tests for the same materials as well as others such as oil and grease, sulfates, lead and arsenic.
Hock addressed the increase of land deeds being pulled in Emmet, Charlevoix, Antrim and Kalkaska counties.
“Companies typically will lease a fairly large acreage, then, as exploration goes forward, if they’re successful or other companies are successful, they have acreage that they have leased,” said Hock. “But again, we’re at a very early stage right now.”
Freshwater Future is using a certified lab, SOS Analytical in Traverse City, to take and test samples — homeowners will not be testing their own water. The cost of the tests could vary widely, depending on whether Freshwater Future continues to use the lab in Traverse City, whether potential grant money can help offset the cost of the testing and which tier the homeowner uses. Tier 1 testing could cost about $300 for the initial sampling and an additional $250 for the next three years of continued sampling. Tier 2 could cost between $800 and $900, with an additional $300 over the next three years of sampling.
“We’re excited about this. We think it’s using good science to determine what’s really going on — what is or what is not going on,” said Street. “If it shows there’s no problem, that’s great. If something is occurring, at least we have something to turn to.”
For more information, visit www.freshwaterfuture.org or contact Emily Whittaker at firstname.lastname@example.org or (231) 373-3670.
Follow @MorganSherburne on Twitter.
Because of reporter error, this story should have also stated that Encana Corporation uses an independent lab to test all domestic wells within a half-mile radius of the wellhead and within a quarter mile of the lateral portion of the well, if approved by the landowner, according to Doug Hock, spokesman for the company. He said the testing is also all done free of charge.