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Michigan DNR poised to allow fracking along Au Sable’s ‘Holy Waters’

Au Sable River

The Michigan Environmental Council and our allies are deeply concerned about pending mineral leases that would allow oil and gas drilling along a section of the Au Sable River so pristine and revered by trout anglers that it’s known as the Holy Waters.

The parcels were among those up for bid in an October auction of mineral leases on state land. The winning bidder on the leases was Encana, a Canadian company with plans to drill some 500 wells across northern Michigan using the controversial method called fracking.

You can see a map of the parcels in question here.

Leading the opposition to the leases are the Anglers of the Au Sable, an MEC member group. Here’s a brief video from the Anglers that provides a fuller understanding of the special place we’re talking about.

MEC has joined the Anglers, Grayling Township, local Realtors, business owners and fellow environmental groups in signing a letter to Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh asking him not to authorize the leases. He will announce his decision at Thursday’s meeting of the Natural Resources Commission. You can read the letter here.

“What we’re really asking for is two things,” said Tom Baird, vice president of the Anglers. “Don’t lease those properties. And in the future, let’s have a process where we can say there are some areas in the state’s ownership that just aren’t appropriate for oil and gas development because there are competing and incompatible uses.”

The sights, sounds and smells of oil and gas activity near the Holy Waters would ruin a recreational destination few  places in the country can rival. Allowing the leases also would constitute a significant policy change for the DNR. Indeed, the agency’s own website notes the unique glacial geology, prolific insect hatches and prodigious trout populations that make the Au Sable a world-renowned fly-fishing stream.

“My dad always said that God created the Au Sable River for fly fishing with its fabulous trout populations, its cold clear waters, its stable flows and stream depths and bottom ideal for wading,” said the late Rusty Gates-2009 winner of MEC’s Petoskey Prize for Grassroots Leadership-in a quote on the DNR website.

Nowhere on the Au Sable is that truer than in the Holy Waters, with “its wadable water, dependable insect hatches and quality trout fishing,” the site says.

Beyond the aesthetic or emotional objections to new development along the Holy Waters, the letter to Creagh highlights important scientific and economic reasons why he should void the leases.

For example:

  • Local property values are dependent upon the area’s natural beauty, which oil and gas activity threatens. Riverfront property owners in Crawford County contributed $3.3 million to county tax rolls in 2012. That’s nearly a quarter of all property tax revenue in the county. 
  • In contrast, the state received an average of $31 per acre from its last three auctions. If that remains the case for the new leases, the state will receive less than $100,000 in property taxes for the entire 2,800 acres in question. That’s less than the value of a single waterfront cabin.
  • As of September 20, Encana’s actual and proposed groundwater withdrawals for fracking in and near the neighboring Manistee River watershed in Kalkaska County total 483 million gallons. That’s equal to 131 days of total water consumption by all domestic, industrial and agricultural users in Kalkaska County.

Sucking up such huge quantities of groundwater is a serious threat to the Au Sable’s lifeblood. To again quote the DNR website, “The Au Sable River is unique among all rivers in the United States in one important aspect: it has the most stable flow of any stream in the country.”

When water is used for fracking, the withdrawal is permanent. It becomes laced with chemicals and cannot be returned to the watershed. And that’s the best-case scenario; should a spill or leak allow tainted waste water back into the sponge-like aquifer beneath the Au Sable, the pollution would move quickly through the sand and gravel and be extremely difficult to remove.

To stay up to date on proposed drilling in the Au Sable watershed, check in regularly with the Anglers of the Au Sable’s website and keep an eye on MEC’s Facebook and Twitter pages.


Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post had a broken link to the coalition letter to DNR Director Creagh. Our apologies-the link has been fixed.

Au Sable River photo courtesy George Thomas via Flickr.

  1. Dave Mayberry #

    Allowing a foreign oil company to frack anywhere in the US is a very bad idea. The idea of allowing them to lease pristine Michigan land for just a few dollars is absurd. The unregulated business of fracking will have negitive affects on both water and air quality. The people of Michigan really need to wake up and not listen to the biased TV ads claiming that natural gas is a safe energy resource.
    Make your voice heard NOW and Tell the DNR to stop the start of the destruction of the “Holy Waters”.

    December 12, 2013
    • Ben #

      ‘The unregulated business of fracking…”??
      Sir, I challenge you to find an industry more regulated than that of oil & gas.

      December 13, 2013
      • Shell Goddamnit #

        Oil & gas companies utilizing fracking are exempt from a number of regulatory suites - for example, I believe that the Clean Water Act regulations they are subject to only apply to “produced water” that comes to the surface, not to whatever might end up in groundwater. And fracturing is specifically exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act per law passed in 2005.

        December 13, 2013
  2. Kirk Smith #

    Is nothing holy but money to these sorry ass scumbag oil companies? Get the frack out of Michigan.

    December 12, 2013
  3. Ben #

    Fact: Since the 1940′s, when hydraulic fracturing was first used, there has not been ONE documented case of groundwater being polluted by drill fluids due to fracking.

    “…the environmental risk of hydraulic fracturing is practically nonexistent.” says EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

    Don’t believe the hype.

    December 13, 2013
    • Hugh McDiarmid #

      Thanks for the comments.
      Kirk, yellow flag for language. Ben, Michigan has avoided the problems other states have had because of forward-thinking regulations enacted decades ago. We require steel tanks, for example, to store toxic flowback. Other states’ clay liners failed.
      The new, deep-well fracking taking root in Michigan now is much different, using literally hundreds of times more groundwater that will be made toxic and unusable forever. The old rules are not adequate to protect water and public health given the exponential increase in risk.

      December 13, 2013
  4. Kimberly Brown #

    I have posted this to Facebook as well as Twitter. In light of all of the dishonestly that came out in the push for the wolf hunt, I have very little regard for the DNR. I’m very troubled by this. Science is not informing their decisions; politics is.

    December 13, 2013
  5. I am a native Michigander. I absolutely love our state lands, our pristine rivers for showing our next generation how to fish and canoe. I find it hard to believe that the DEA of our state would even think of allowing this to happen to our wilderness. What’s in it for us citizens of this beautiful state of ours…the losing of passing on traditions and memories from one generation to the next. How long will it be that we can no longer share this love for mother nature and the beauty of our state once these people step in???? It’s typical politics…follow the money and screw the land of opportunity for our future generations to come. We need to know the why w/ explanations in order to understand what YOU PEOPLE are thinking. Why can’t you just let mother nature take her course and look elsewhere for their “GET RICH QUICK>>>AND EFF THE GENERATIONS TO COME”? I bet you don;’t have any “real” answer except the $ thing…sometimes you have to weigh the true options…God only made a certain amount of property in this world, yet you would take this away from Him as well as us? Shame on you.

    December 13, 2013
  6. Dave #

    Ben, Hot Air is a crappy conservative blog.. That’s like trying to convince people that Fox News is a real News.. We all know how much Conservative love the environment and hate money.. It’s a Joke Ben.. Go back to your corporate office and spit out your propaganda somewhere else. Yeah, there are a lot of people up in Michigan that are conservatives. And you may also think you can sway there opinions, but, one thing you don’t want to do is mess with there playground… Deer hunting season is like Christmas up here.. And Fishing is all the other holidays.. Your obviously getting something out of your remarks.. Money, shares, MONEY!! You need to go watch the documentary “GAS LAND” it’s actually tells the TRUTH about fracking.. Unlike your BS Hot Air Blog.. Your a Liar.. A liar that probably has a lot of money from gas and oil profits..

    December 13, 2013
    • Hugh McDiarmid #

      Loving the good discussion, but comments with personal attacks, bad language, or that make unverifiable statements that seem designed to antagonize are grounds for having your comment deleted. We have never deleted a comment (other than spam). Let’s keep it that way, eh?

      December 16, 2013
  7. Liz Peltier #

    I pray this awful fracking does NOT happen. I live in WI where we are trying to fight this horrible iron mine in Mellen. We all need to protect the beauty of these areas, or they will vanish. As a native of MI U.P., I am very concerned about the environmental devastation both Walker and Snyder are wreaking on our lands. Both these people need to be voted out.

    December 14, 2013

Comments are closed.