EDITORIAL

Energy is key to Michigan's future

The Detroit News

Hydraulic fracturing, the process of blasting rock with high-pressure water to extract natural gas from shale formations deep beneath the earth's surface, has stirred controversy throughout the country. The debate over the safety and environmental risks of "fracking," as it's commonly called, has reached Michigan as well.

Several communities — including groups in Rochester Hills, Shelby Township and parts of Washtenaw County — are protesting fracking and drilling near residential neighborhoods.

As Michigan's local communities look to regulate modern production practices, they and the energy industry must work together to craft regulations that protect health, safety and the environment, but don't squash the economic benefits energy production offers the state.

The United States is now the leading producer of oil and natural gas in the world, surpassing Saudi Arabia and Russia.

According to the Energy Information Administration, total U.S. crude oil production averaged an estimated 8.7 million barrels per day in September, the highest monthly production since July 1986.

That number is expected to increase by two million per day in 2015. And natural gas liquids are expected to increase to 3.2 million barrels per day in 2015 from a 2013 average of 2.6 million

The dramatic increase in production is largely due to recent fracking of shale formations in North Dakota and Texas, and in nearby Pennsylvania and Ohio. Shale gas production now accounts for about half of the total U.S. natural gas production, up from 1 percent in 2000.

Although Michigan is not a top energy producing state, the oil and gas industry still supports about 182,000 jobs statewide and contributes $15.8 billion to its economy, according to the American Petroleum Institute.

The average salary for industry-related jobs is almost $76,000 annually — $30,000 higher than the average Michigan wage for other jobs.

The economic benefits of the energy production extend to other industries upon which Michigan heavily relies, including manufacturing and transportation. Those require efficient, local energy production to operate at full capacity and provide jobs for Michiganians. A July report by the University of Michigan says shale gas is a "game-changer for U.S. manufacturing."

Increased domestic production of oil and gas means lower gas prices and more energy independence.

Considering the uptick in Middle East turmoil and strained relations between the U.S. and Russia, it's imperative the country rely on as much of its own energy supply as possible.

Michigan sits on a shale formation. About 12,000 wells have been safely fractured in the state since 1952. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says "regulators have seen no instances of adverse environmental impacts."

Michigan also has strict rules about water use, construction and testing in the process. Water contamination has not been an issue.

The groups protesting fracking mainly take concern with it being close to residential areas. That's a fair complaint, and reasonable rules should be in place to limit well-heads in close proximity to homes.

But the safety of fracking as a modern technology has been well-established in other states.

In Colorado, which sits on major energy reserves, the industry led initiatives with the state last year to regulate itself. This kind of collaborative approach serves the best interests of residents, state government, and those in the industry.

Energy production is key to Michigan's future. Any regulations should honor that while protecting health and safety for local communities.