On September 23 and October 8, 17, and 22, 2011, DFM board members JoAnne Beemon and Ellis Boal visited Encana’s Excelsior 1-25 HD1 and 1-13 HD1 wells in Kalkaska County. DFM picked up DEQ documents on them August 1. They are here and here. The wells lie along Sunset Trail just south and north, repectively, of M-72, near the snowmobile/ORV trailhead by Bear Lake, between Kalkaska and Grayling.
As at Chevron’s St Mancelona 1-28 HD1, permit 60271, Atlas Gas & Oil Co, Antrim County, Mancelona Township, they are on public land, and the forest is pristine with maple, cherry, aspen, oak, and balsam to 18 inches.
North of M-72, a side road veers off from Sunset Trail, to Grass Lake, the site of the Boy Scouts’ 1200-acre Camp Tapico. The
North Branch of the Manistee River, a state-designated natural river, passes under this road, as does the horizontal leg of 1-13 HD1. The leg follows the river generally for half a mile. The North Branch is an unstocked trout stream with a self sustaining population of brook trout.
The wellhead of 1-25 HD1 is half a mile from the Cranberry Lake boat launch. The sites are 4-5 acres in size, and smoothly graded.As at Mancelona 1-28 HD1, the Excelsior wells failed the Water Withdrawal Assessment screening test. A site-specific review was conducted for 1-13 HD1, resulting in a finding of no adverse resource impact. But again as at Mancelona 1-28 HD1, facts and reasoning supporting this conclusion are not in the DEQ’s documents. As to 1-25 HD1, its permit was not yet granted when DFM got its documents on August 1. When final documents on the site-specific review are obtained, DFM expects that like theother wells they will show no facts or reasoning supporting the decision to allow the well.
September 23. Boal visited alone without a camera. There were a few workers and some heavy equipment at 1-25 HD1, but no activity at 1-13 HD1. Many signs said “danger” and “keep out.” But none identified Encana or displayed permits.
Display of a well permit is required by Michigan statute and regulations. MCL 324.61525(1) requires the operator to “post the permit in a conspicuous place at the location of the well” as provided in the state oil-and-gas regulations. R 324.201(2)(k) requires the permit to be posted at the well location until well completion. Under R 324.103(r), well completion is when a well has either been plugged, found capable of producing, or been equipped to begin production.
At 1-25 HD1, Boal walked into the work area. No pits or frack sand were visible. One of the workers said Boal had to leave. Boal gave his business card and some Don’t Frack Michigan literature, and asked that the foreman call him. He said he was on his way to 1-13 HD1, three miles away up Sunset Trail.
A pickup followed him there. Again, “danger” and “keep out” signs were posted, but no ID and no permit. Two men emerged from the truck, one claiming to be the foreman. He said he knew who Boal was, from being at the same meeting once. Boal asked if drilling was complete. The man said yes, both the vertical and horizontal legs were drilled. Boal asked when fracking would start. The man said he didn’t know. Boal asked why there were no permits displayed. The man said display wasn’t required.
October 17. Encana still had not called. Boal returned to the sites in the afternoon. The drilling rig was gone from deserted 1-25 HD1, as were the truck and most of the frac tanks. A “danger” sign was now on the gate, but no permit and nothing identifying Encana. At 1-13 HD1 the gate was open with no signs or permits visible. Boal had time to stay only briefly and looked only from afar. Workers and heavy equipment were evident, including an operating earth mover. The drilling rig was there, raising and dropping an object in the center, apparently over the wellhead, which raised black smoke. There was no fencing at either site.
October 22. Encana still had not called. It was a Saturday. Boal and Beemon returned again, in the late afternoon, with a camera. 1-25 HD1 was deserted and in the same state with the same signs as when Boal was there on October 17.
At 1-13 HD1, there was a lone plain-clothes self-employed guard who gave only his first name, Brian. He was friendly but knew nothing about the operations. He said workers had been there earlier in the day. A stop sign was now erected with a phone number to call for an appointment, but nothing to show whose phone it was or whether the answering person or machine had any authority. A nearby hand-written sign said “Please sign in at gate.” Boal and Beemon asked to sign in. Brian said no. Boal gave his business card and Don’t Frack Michigan literature, and asked for a call from Encana. The guard tried to reach his supervisor by phone, but there was no answer. As in all the other visits, no permit was posted, nor was there anything identifying Encana or the DEQ. The drilling rig was gone. It was hard to see much else. The gate was 100 yards back from the berm-rimmed perimeter of the 400′ x 500′ foot pad. A large trailer could be seen by the wellhead, and a tower with floodlights.
Denying access to the perimeter was illegal. The gate should have been at the perimeter as it is at 1-25 HD1. Up to there, the woods are public state land where anyone can walk. The whole purpose of the environmental impact assessment which companies have to submit with a drilling application is to allow the public to make its own determination and weigh in on the suitability of a well. People can’t do that if they can’t get close. Refusal to display a permit at the gate was also illegal. This was the only “conspicuous” place to which the public had access.
Encana is a huge corporation with operations all over North America and its eye on Michigan. Persistent violations over several weeks at the Excelsior wells are plain for anyone to see. The unguarded and unfenced drilling rig would have been an attractive nuisance at 1-25 HD1, had a young unsupervised hiker or fisherman happened by and clambered up. 1-13 HD1 is just two miles from Camp Tapico, which has year-round camping and tree houses. The attraction to young boys stealing out to scale the drilling rig there might have proved irresistable.
It is another reason the state can’t be trusted to regulate the process, and fracking should be banned in Michigan.
No wonder Encana won’t display its name. No wonder the foreman who said drilling was over was afraid of getting into trouble.