• Concerns regarding water withdrawal, ground water
Although no Utica shale wells have been drilled as yet in Antrim County, DNRE geologist Ann Stephens, who spoke to members of the Antrim County Democratic Party last week, said new natural gas wells like this Antrim shale well in Milton Township are still appearing in Antrim County. CENTRAL LAKE - The Michigan DNRE is currently reviewing approximately six preliminary permit applications to allow drilling for Utica shale natural gas in Antrim County, said geologists from the state natural resources agency last week.All of those applications are for locations in Mancelona Township, according to Ann Stephens and Mark Cromell, who spoke to members of the Antrim County Democratic Party at the Blue Pelican banquet hall on Wednesday, November 10.Noting that development of the lucrative natural gas reserves believed to be sequestered between 6,000 and 9,000 feet below the surface of the earth is still in its infancy, the geologists stated that although Utica shalewells are being drilled in both Kalkaska County and Cheboygan County, no Utica shale wells currently exist in Antrim County.Another Utica shale well, in Missaukee County, showed great promise shortly after it was drilled last spring, Stephens said, but has not yet gone into full-scale production. “It could be that natural gas reserves may not have been as rich in that particular location as speculators had at first believed,¨ she said, shrugging her shoulders. “And it could be that something went wrong during the drilling process that is curtailing extraction of what’s down there.”
Noting the air of secrecy that often surrounds speculation for minerals, Stephens added, “The DNRE does regular inspections of all of Michigan’s gas and oil wells, but they aren’t telling us anything more than they are legally required to tell us.” The geologists also acknowledged several “test¨ well sites within Antrim County, where shale core samples have been extracted, including a location in Custer Township near Lake of the Woods on land briefly considered two years ago for acquisition by the Grass River Natural Area. “If they see something they like in those samples, then they may come back to us with a drilling permit application, but as yet we haven’t seen any activity outside of Mancelona Township,¨ said Cromell, who said that at present there is no interest at all in Utica shale gas reserves elsewhere in Antrim County. Cromell noted that development of gas reserves in the Collingwood reef may be Antrim County’s third “boom¨ in a history of oil and gas speculation that began in the 1940’s. “Improved technology in the 1970’s brought a discovery of oil, again, in Mancelona Township,¨ he said. “Those wells, a few of which are still in production, have produced approximately 200,000 barrels of oil.¨ Initially discovered in the 1980’s in the Prairie Du Chien reef, development of natural gas resources in the shallower Antrim reef, “boomed¨ in the 1990’s, with more than 1800 wells produced in the county, many still in production. “Antrim County leads the state of Michigan in natural gas production no due to the lucrative amounts of gas in the Antrim reef,” Cromell noted. “In fact, the Antrim reserves are still being developed, with recent new activity on the west side of Antrim County in Torch Lake and Milton Townships.¨ With those wells, approximately 55 deep injection wells have been drilled to hold wastewater from the hydro-fracturing drilling process, which is the most common method to drill gas and oil wells. Stating that more than 12,000 wells have been safely drilled in Michigan using the “fracking” process, Stephens added that she was not aware of any ground water contamination resulting from any of those efforts. Concerns regarding the amount of water needed for “fracking¨ the deep Utica wells were also discounted by the geologists, who noted that the 5,000,000 gallons of water used to drill the Pioneer well in Missaukee County was equivalent to “what your average golf course uses in 25 days.¨ Site-by-site evaluation of all water sources is done by the DNRE prior to approving a drilling permit application, Stephens said, adding that water from area streams or lakes cannot be used. “The gas companies have to drill their own water wells,¨ she stressed. Stating that she does not believe that hydro-fracturing is “problematic¨, Stephens said, “Michigan is leaps and bounds ahead of other states as far as gas and oil regulations, and is much more stringent than other states where groundwater contamination and other problems have occurred.¨ Neither biologist gave any time frame for decisions on the pending preliminary permit applications.