This is a re-post of a letter sent to the SJRVFF from the Anglers of the AuSable.
July 20, 2011
Dear Fly Fishing Club Leader,
By working together, the Michigan fly fishing community has an opportunity to better understand some of our most prized rivers and stay in front of emerging threats to coldwater streams and trout populations. We are writing to ask for your financial assistance to fund a major, two year study of temperatures, flow rates and water chemistry on the Upper Manistee and Au Sable Rivers and their tributaries.
In June, the Anglers of the Au Sable board of directors approved a major investment in water quality monitoring on the Au Sable and Upper Manistee rivers. This two-year project will help scientists, regulators and anglers clearly document the state of our rivers today – at the dawn of a potential boom in new and intensive oil and gas development in northern Michigan. This research, performed by some of the top geologists in state, will also provide DNR fisheries biologists with a wealth of new data to better understand and improve our coldwater fisheries – even in the face of deep budget cuts within the department.
To pull this off, we could really use your help.
Fracking Controversy Nationwide
Over the past year, the Anglers of the Au Sable have worked to gain a better understanding of “fracking” – a controversial method of extracting natural gas from deep reserves previously unreachable by traditional drilling methods. For more information about some of these critical issues read Riverwatch Issue 60 on our website, ausableanglers.org.
In short, hydraulically fractured gas wells are the subject of numerous conservation and public health debates across the country. Fluids used to extract shale gas from deep formations contain toxic chemicals; the ensuing migration of methane gas through rock fissures is suspected for outbreaks of contaminated drinking wells; and isolated cases of fluid spills have directly contaminated rivers.
The state of New York imposed a temporary moratorium on fracking in 2010. The state of Arkansas imposed a moratorium earlier this year after numerous earthquakes raised concerns that the fracking of deep shale wells was causing abnormal seismic activity. And in April 2011, Chesapeake Energy — one of the nation’s largest producers of natural gas — temporarily halted
all fracking operations in Pennsylvania after one of its deep shale wells suffered a spill that polluted a nearby stream. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has launched a comprehensive study of the environmental impact of fracking. That study may not be completed until at least 2012.
New Urgency in Michigan
In Michigan, one of the most acute concerns with fracking is large-scale withdrawal of groundwater. The Au Sable and Manistee rivers rely on groundwater for their consistent, cold-water flows. It takes five million gallons or more of groundwater to drill a “fracked” gas well. That’s 100 times more water than each of the traditional Antrim Shale wells that have dotted the northern Michigan landscape over the past 50 years. And, this withdrawal takes place “up front” during the process, so while the effects may be temporary, they may be severe when the withdrawal is taking place.
As of early May, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality had issued 18 permits to drill hydraulically fracked wells for natural gas in the Utica-Collingwood formation in northern Michigan. Another 12 permit applications were pending. One of those wells was within a couple miles of the headwaters of the Manistee River.
The upper Au Sable River and Upper Manistee watersheds sit atop some of Michigan’s thickest deposits of Utica-Collingwood shale, and the watersheds may see considerable fracking-related development in future years. In two auction cycles in 2010, oil and gas companies paid nearly $200 million for state-owned mineral leases on more than 120,000 acres across northern Michigan. That sum equaled the total lease revenue to the state over the past eight decades. In October 2010, for example, one firm spent $1 million to acquire drilling rights on more than 33,000 acres within the Au Sable watershed near Grayling. Because shale gas in the Utica-Collingwood formation is found at a depth of 10,000 feet, all of the wells drilled into that layer of gas will use the fracking technique.
Our Answer: Document River Conditions Now
The long-term potential impacts of additional development, including fracking, on cold water trout fisheries are largely unknown.
At our June board meeting, Anglers approved Part 1 of a comprehensive, two-year water quality monitoring study on the Au Sable and the Upper Manistee. Conducted by Dr. David Hyndman, the chair of the geology department at Michigan State University, this study will place advanced temperature and flow gauges at 40 locations on those two rivers. The result will be a detailed portrait of river conditions before any fracking rush is fully underway. If fracking takes off and river flows are impacted, we seek to have clear evidence to urge regulators and industry to prevent any degradation of our world-class fisheries.
In addition, regarding Part 2 of the study, we are in the planning stages of a water chemistry study of the same waters. If finances permit, this will take place over the same period of time. Patterned after similar work in Pennsylvania, the chemical analysis will allow us to detect potential future chemical impacts in the rivers from fracking.
We Need Your Help to Keep Watch Over Rivers
The Au Sable-Manistee monitoring study is patterned after a similar approach led by local Trout Unlimited chapters in Pennsylvania, where the fracking controversy is in full bloom. In Michigan, our monitoring techniques are scalable, meaning we can eventually add detailed chemical analysis and more river systems to the project if additional funds are available. We plan to share all data with state biologists to enhance further understanding of the fisheries.
None of this is cheap. The cost of Part 1, the Au Sable-Manistee temperature and flow study, is $96,000. That’s a huge expense for any nonprofit. But we view it as crucial. An investment of up to $5,000 from your Club would go a long way to help the Anglers cover these significant river protection expenses.
We welcome your feedback on this project and the rest of Anglers’ ongoing conservation work.
Thank you for your consideration.
Vice President – Anglers of the Au Sable
Chairman – Anglers of the Au Sable Oil & Gas Committee
Chairman -Anglers of the AuSable Resource Agency Committee
VP Conservation, GLC, FFF