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Hydraulic Fracturing In Oil And Gas Development

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Scott A. Storey
Foster Swift Agricultural Law Update
January 2012

The use of hydraulic fracturing in oil and gas exploration has recently generated significant public debate. Hydraulic fracturing, which may be employed during the drilling or reworking of oil and gas wells, involves the injection of water, sands and chemicals at high pressure down and across into horizontally drilled wells. This pressurized mixture is released into the rock layer thousands of feet below the surface causing the rock layer to crack. The resulting fissures are held open by the sand particles in the mixture, which allows natural gas to flow up the well.

Hydraulic fracturing has been used in Michigan since the 1950s in more than 12,000 wells. The practice has come under recent criticism, most notably in Pennsylvania, where there have been reports of gas migrating in to aquifers, most likely due to improper well construction. The EPA also recently announced the preliminary results of a study in Wyoming which suggested the possibility of aquifer contamination resulting from hydraulic fracturing. Michigan, however, which has always been considered a leader in regulation and safety of oil and gas wells, recently enacted additional regulations for larger--volume hydraulic fracturing. These new requirements include additional documentation of fresh water use to ensure no adverse impact to surface water or neighboring water wells, and submission of fracturing records and charts showing fracturing volumes, rates and pressures. Notwithstanding these new protections, we expect that hydraulic fracturing will continue to be the subject of much research and discussion in connection with Michigan oil and gas exploration and production.