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Fracking: Is it Safe?

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If you haven’t heard of fracking before, you aren’t alone. The practice–really called "hydraulic fracturing"–involves pumping large amounts of water combined with sand and other chemicals into wells that can go for miles underground. Ultimately, the pressure creates cracks (known as "fissures") in shale deposits and releases natural gas. However, while the practice isn’t as well known in Michigan, it has caused serious controversy in other states such as Texas, Pennsylvania, and New York. Now a similar debate is brewing in Michigan between environmentalists and the oil and gas industry.

Fracking has actually been going on since the early 1960s in Michigan. State regulators and industry representatives argue that it’s environmentally sound, but critics counter that it’s dangerous to ground water, soil, and air quality. Compared to other states where battles have already been brewing, Michigan’s battle over fracking remains fairly tame. In fact, other states have faced lawsuits, neighborhood strife, and heated town hall discussions. Nevertheless, Michigan’s fracking debate is sure to heat up if the Collingwood Shale Formation, which extends along much of the Lower Peninsula, contains the amount of resources oil and gas companies hope exist there.

So far only a few exploratory wells have been bored. As of yet, none have been "gushers," but the industry believes that there is more unexplored wells with oil to be discovered. The Michigan Oil and Gas Association is gearing up for a battle against environmental regulators, including distributing pamphlets describing fracking as a safe and vital process. Environmentalists aren’t convinced of the safety and are calling for a moratorium on fracking over concerns that the chemicals involved in the process are contaminating groundwater. Overall, the ferocity of the debate will largely rely on the success of the Collingwood formation and its possible natural gas stores.