Potential fracking operations in Livingston County threaten property values, water quality, and our way of life, yet our county government is sitting on its hands rather than try to protect us, the chair of the Livingston County Democratic Party says. “It is irresponsible for Livingston County Commissioners to ignore a situation that could damage our way of life irreparably. They need to think creatively about how they can help local township officials and residents who are faced with the prospect of outside corporations forcing fracking on us,” said Judy Daubenmier.
The risks imposed by fracking include exposure to chemicals, air emissions, releases contaminants, withdrawal of huge amounts of water, creation of large volumes of wastewater, high truck traffic and transportation issues, land impact, odors, noise, and handling and disposal of hazardous or contaminated liquids or mud. “Conway Township officials were basically hung out to dry by county government, which left them to deal with citizens irate over the prospect of fracking coming in to their community and bringing its long list of associated risks with it. Instead of leaving our townships to face this alone, we need a partnership between county government and townships, many of which have very small staffs and budgets. But so far, the county commission has been ignoring the issue. The county commission said recently that it would focus on ‘public safety’ issues in 2014. Certainly, the threats posed by fracking are a matter of public safety, but the county commission seems oblivious to what is going on in our own backyard,” Daubenmier said. Michigan law does not allow local entities to ban fracking, and counties and townships cannot stop the issuing of permits for wells or the operation of the wells, but there are steps the county could take. Daubenmier said the county should: –Request the county clerk to make a public announcement whenever notice is received of a permit for drilling being granted in Livingston County. State law only requires that the county clerk be notified, but nothing prevents the clerk from letting the public know. After all, the clerk is elected by residents of the county, who pay her salary. It’s not too much to ask that she be proactive in protecting us.
–Set up a clearinghouse of information within the county planning department with information on ordinances that townships can pass to regulate operations on fracking sites. The Traverse City-based non-profit organization For the Love of Water, or FLOW, has a package of potential ordinances that Conway Township is examining and has offered to share. Rather than putting the burden on Conway Township, the county planning commission should collect information and share it with townships.
For example, local governments can regulate hours of operation, noise levels, dust control measures, water and chemical transfers, mixing, handling, and disposal of wastewater and other materials, traffic, transportation, and other risks or impacts, according to a November 2012 report from FLOW called “Horizontal Fracturing for Oil and Gas in Michigan: Legal Strategies and Tools for Communities and Citizens.”
The county should draft model ordinances that our local governments could adapt to their own needs. It should also participate in hosting the informational meeting with FLOW that several Livingston County townships are arranging. The townships are scraping together $5,000 to pay for the meeting but they should not have to do that. The county should cover the cost.
–Direct the county’s emergency management team to consult with other communities with fracking operations to be certain that it is prepared to respond to a spill or incident at the site. The mixture of chemicals and sand that is pumped into the ground could have adverse effects on residents, livestock, and crops if spilled, and residents need assurances that our first responders are prepared.
–Encourage the Livingston County Road Commission to notify local residents when it receives a request for a permit for a road to a well site and encourage the road commission to make certain that road load limits are strictly adhered to. The road commission should also be encouraged to contact communities with on-going fracking operations to learn how much damage the associated truck traffic has done to local roads. County residents deserve to know all the costs associated with fracking operations.
“This is only a partial list of steps the county commission could take. I’m sure they could come up with more if they engaged in some creative thinking about what their responsibilities to the citizens of the county are,” Daubenmier said.
“Of course, lobbying our local lawmakers for changes at the state level is also important. The DEQ, for example, required only a $25,000 bond to cover potential damages in Conway Township, which is a pittance. Requiring a more realistic bonding level would be a simple step the state could take. But state action takes time and there are things the county commission needs to do right now without waiting for the state to act.”