News Story

Ban on Fossil Fuel Drilling in Michigan Could Be on the Ballot in 2020

Anti-oil and gas group missed two deadlines but wins in court

A committee looking to place a ban on oil and gas hydraulic fracturing — commonly known as fracking — in Michigan law says it may get its proposal on the November ballot “if all goes our way.” But the way its petition is written wouldn’t just ban fracking in the 13 gas wells using that procedure; it could ban all oil and gas drilling in the state. That would shut down the thousands of wells across Michigan.

The Committee To Ban Fracking made the claim on its website after the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in its favor. The proposal will now go back to the Board of State Canvassers.

The director of the Michigan Bureau of Elections had rejected the organization’s petition in 2018, which would have placed a ballot question before voters. The initiated law’s cover page stated that if the measure was not enacted by the Legislature, it would be voted on in the November 2016 general election, which had already taken place.

According to court documents, the committee had started collecting signatures in May 2015, when there were two relevant deadlines. The first was a statute governing the signatures required for “initiated legislation,” which would include the ban. The law says that all petition signatures in support of placing the question on the ballot must be gathered within a window of 180 days.

The second deadline required any committee advancing an initiated law to file its completed petitions with the Secretary of State at least 160 days before the election in which the measure would appear. The requirement would apply only if the Legislature did not pass the proposal first, which most observers believed would not happen. The committee met neither deadline. According to court documents, it gathered 150,000 signatures within 180 days, but 252,523 were needed.

The committee nevertheless continued to collect signatures, and in November 2018 stated it would work toward having the measure placed on the 2020 general election ballot. It is now challenging the constitutionality of the 180-day window.

While selling the proposal as banning fracking, the petition language calls for a law that would likely stop all drilling for fossil fuels. That’s because it prevents the use of chemicals and fluids commonly used in all gas and oil drilling.

“The proposed language would ban common production techniques that are necessary for all oil and gas wells to be drilled and to operate to their full potential, regardless of whether hydraulic fracturing is used,” Michigan Oil and Gas Association president and CEO Erin McDonough said about the petition in 2015.

Nationwide, fracking and new technologies have increased the U.S. production of oil to record levels. In January 2020, the U.S. produced 395 million barrels of oil. That’s the second-highest amount ever for a month, only eclipsed by the 397 million barrels produced in December 2019, according to the Energy Information Administration.

In Michigan, the average price for a gallon of gas was $1.65 as of April 3, according to American Automobile Association.

According to the state, just 13 active wells producing oil and gas here use “high volume hydraulic fracturing,” meaning they use 100,000 or more gallons of water. Six of those 13 wells are located in Kalkaska County. There were about 15,000 active oil and gas wells in Michigan as of 2012.

According to Michigan’s state environmental agency, fracking has been used in over 12,000 wells here over the course of five decades. It adds that “the process of hydraulic fracturing itself has never caused environmental damage in Michigan.”

The state of Michigan is home to less than 1% of domestic crude oil production in the U.S., according to the Energy Information Administration.