Group Questions Use of Fracking Fluids & Sturgeon Season

  • Michigan DNR Fisheries Biologist Tim Cwalinski with students from Michigan State University and a sturgeon. (Photo credit: MSU)

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

A group that wants to ban hydraulic fracturing in Michigan says the state didn’t follow its own rules in disposing fluid from wells that were fracked. Ban Michigan Fracking has learned the fluid was spread on public roads close to a lake and in a campground near the Mackinac Bridge last summer. Bob Allen has more:

State officials have said the fluids used to fracture deep oil and gas wells are to be disposed of carefully. Those fluids typically are millions of gallons of water per well plus a mixture of chemicals necessary to the fracking process.

Last summer, the Department of Environmental Quality allowed 40,000 gallons of fluid from fracked wells to be spread on public roads.

Paul Brady drives Sunset Trail in Kalkaska County to get to work.

He noticed it stayed muddy during a dry period last summer so he traced the wet road directly to a well site.

BRADY: “We know that tons of chemicals went down that well bore. And it came up and it was spread on our roads. And that is why we should be concerned.”

When the issue was raised, the DEQ tested the water coming out of the wells and tested the roadbeds.

Hal Fitch is in charge of oil and gas development in the state.

FITCH: “It turns out there really wasn’t anything in that water that was deleterious above normal oil field brine. But still…”

Still, the state has decided not to allow brine from fracked wells to be spread on roads to keep dust down.

But it says the group trying to ban fracking altogether is overblowing the issue.

Ban Michigan Fracking says it’s been waiting for months for the DEQ test data so it can confirm the results.

And it questions how the state agency “can be trusted to protect the environment when it apparently can’t follow its own rules in treating the liquid waste.”

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This is the Environment Report.

Lake sturgeon are amazing fish. They can weigh several hundred pounds and they can live to be a hundred years old.

Sturgeon used to be abundant throughout the Great Lakes region. But they were overfished, and construction of dams on rivers where they spawn hurt their reproduction. They’re now a state threatened species.

Tim Cwalinski is a fisheries biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

He says these days, sturgeon are carefully managed.  There are a few fishing seasons for sturgeon in different parts of the state.

The season for sturgeon in Black Lake in Cheboygan County opens February 2nd. Tim Cwalinski says there are about 1,200 adult sturgeon in the lake.  The quota this year is just six fish total for all the fishermen combined.

“If you get a fish you have to report it in right away to DNR as one fish if another person gets one 20 min later on the ice, that’s the second fish. Once it hits six the season’s over.”

So the fishing season can be over in just a matter of hours.  Canons are fired and sirens go off when the season closes.

Cwalinski says fishermen typically use spears to catch sturgeon on Black Lake.

“This is all big holes through the ice, big shanties, warm heated shanties. Big holes size of bathtubs or even larger. You get your shanty blackened out so you can see down that water, down the 10, 15, 20 feet and people wait patiently, with decoys.”

He says the sturgeon population in Black Lake is strong enough to support a limited harvest.

“People were spearing sturgeon in there many, many decades ago. If we can manage a small type of harvest and keep that fishery going, that’s part of our culture too.”

The lakes around Cheboygan have a long history of spearfishing for sturgeon. There’s even a festival celebrating sturgeon season called the Black Lake Sturgeon Shivaree.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.