The Weekly Newspaper serving the citizens of Morenci, Mich., Fayette, Ohio, and surrounding areas.

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    FIRST SNOW—Heavy, wet flakes piled deep on tree branches—and windshields—as the area received its first significant snowfall of the season. “Usually it begins with a dusting or two,” said George Isobar, Morenci’s observer for the National Weather Service, “but this time it came with a vengeance.” By the end of the day Saturday, a little over four inches of snow was on the ground. Now comes the thaw with temperatures in the 40s and 50s for three days.
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    SKEWERS, gumdrops, and marshmallows are all that’s needed to create interesting shapes and designs for Layla McDowell Saturday at Stair District Library’s “Sculptamania!” Open House. The program featuring design games and materials is one part of a larger project funded by a $7,500 Curiosity Creates grant from Disney and the American Library Association. Additional photos are on page 7.
    Morenci marching band members took to the field Friday night dressed for Halloween during the Bulldog’s first playoff game. Morenci fans had a bit of a scare until the fourth quarter when the Bulldogs scored 30 points to leave Lenawee Christian School behind. Whiteford visits Morenci this Friday for the district championship game. From the left is Clayton Borton, Morgan Merillat and James O’Brien.
    DNA PUZZLE—Mitchell Storrs and Wyatt Mohr tackle a puzzle representing the structure of DNA. There’s only one correct way for all the pieces to fit. It’s one of the new materials that can be used in both biology and chemistry classes, said teacher Loretta Cox.
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    A TRAFFIC control worker stands in the middle of Morenci’s Main Street Tuesday morning, waiting for the next flow of vehicles to be let through from the west. The dusty gravel surface was sealed with a layer of tar, leaving only the application of paint for new striping. The project was completed in conjunction with county road commission work west of Morenci.
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    JUNIORS Jazmin Smith and Trevor Corkle struggle against a team from the sophomore class Friday during the annual tug of war at the Homecoming Games pep rally. Even the seniors struggled against the sophomores who won the competition. At the main course of the day, the Bulldog football team struggled against Whiteford in a homecoming loss.
    YOUNG soccer players surived a chilly morning Saturday in Morenci’s PTO league. From the left is Emma Cordts, Wayne Corser, Carter and Levi Seitz, Briella York and Drew Joughin. Two more weeks of soccer remain for this season.
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    BOWEN BAUMGARTNER of Morenci makes his way across a rope bridge constructed by the Tecumseh Boy Scout troop Sunday at Lake Hudson Recreation Area. The bridge was one of many challenges, displays and games set up for the annual Youth Jamboree by the Michigan DNR. Additional photos on are the back page of this week’s Observer.
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    One of four senior candidates will be crowned the fall homecoming queen during half-time of this week’s Morenci-Whiteford football game. In the back row (left to right) is exchange student Kinga Vidor (her escort will be Caylob Alcock), seniors Alli VanBrandt (escorted by Sam Cool), Larissa Elliott (escorted by Clayton Borton), Samantha Wright (escorted by JJ Elarton) and Justis McCowan (escorted by Austin Gilson), and exchange student Rebecca Rosenberger (escorted by Garrett Smith). Front row freshman court member Allie Kaiser (escorted by Anthony Thomas), sophomore Marlee Blaker (escorted by Nate Elarton) and junior Cheyenne Stone (escorted by Dominick Sell).
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    GETTING READY—Jerad Gleckler pounds nails to secure a string of holiday lights on the side of the Wakefield Park concession stand while other members of the Volunteer Club and others hold them in place. The volunteers showed up Sunday afternoon to string lights at the park. The decorating project will continue this Sunday. Denise Walsh is in charge of the effort this year.
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Oil and Gas: Consultant tells about drilling problems he's encountered 2012.04.18

Written by David Green.


There have been many good experiences in gas and oil exploration in Michigan, said Dr. Chris Grobbel, but those aren’t the cases where he gets involved.

As an environmental and land use consultant based in Traverse City, Grobbel is sought to help out when things go wrong—and they do go wrong, he says.

The message from drilling companies in Michigan over the years, he said, is that none of the wells involving hydraulic fracturing (fracking) have leaked and there is nothing to worry about.

However, problems generally don’t occur at the well-head, Grobbel said.

“Problems especially exist at collection sites, hydration processing sites and pipelines,” he explained.

Grobbel addressed a crowd of about 80 people April 5 in Brooklyn where oil exploration is booming.

In 1995 the State of Michigan stopped maintaining a public list of contamination sites associated with oil and gas drilling. The list was accessible on the state’s website.

“Today there’s no comprehensive list available,” Grobbel said. “It really takes a lot of effort to find out where the sites are and how far along they are [in the clean-up process].”

In 2001, a study by the Alliance for the Great Lakes identified 3,000 drilling sites and learned that contamination problems existed at 200 of them. Twenty-five percent of the cases involved drinking water problems, he said, and none of the sites with groundwater contamination have been fully remediated.

“Not a very good record,” Grobbel said.

In a 2007 study looking at Otsego County alone, Grobbel said about 30 percent of the oil and gas sites had environmental contamination.

“These things happen,” he said, “and industry will tell you they don’t, and government will tell you, ‘Trust us.’”

Grobbel said about 80 percent of the problems are related to human error, and he provided several examples of spills, poor response and a lack of follow-up. Many of the incidents occurred when he worked for the Michigan DEQ.

“My point is vigilance—as a land owner, as a community,” he said. “As a former regulator, I have to tell you, don’t trust the regulators.”

Current oil production in Lenawee and Jackson counties is coming from “conventional shale” rock that doesn’t require horizontal fracking.

What’s getting underway in some areas of the country is drilling into unconventional shale. Drilling initially goes deep, then several holes are drilled that radiate horizontally out from the center. Each well will be fracked several times.

Grobbel said there are currently about 42 wells drilled in the Irish Hills area. In addition, there are plans for two deep well injection sites to dispose of brine and contaminated water from drilling and fracking. The liquid is sent down the well and for storage below in rock formations.

Risks from the storage technique include the contamination of water supplies through upward or lateral migration, and induced earthquakes, such as those reported recently in southeast Ohio. 

A report issued earlier this month by the U.S. Geological Survey reports with “almost certainty” that waste water wells are the cause of an increase of earthquakes in the central United States in recent years.

Grobbel said about 6 million gallons of water are used each time a well is fracked, and about 4 million remains underground and no longer part of the water system. Disposal of the 2 million gallons that rise back up is where accidents sometimes occur.

Grobbel warned residents to expect  truck traffic around the clock when drilling is underway, and to look for the possibility of the fragmentation of wild land through access roads. He knows of a 150-foot wide access road in northern Michigan created to serve only two wells.

The U.S. EPA will schedule a hearing about the proposed injection wells, but Grobbel cautioned not to expect answers to questions. Instead, information will be collected at the hearing and a response will come later.

The Norvell Township supervisor claimed that approval for the injection wells was already given by the DEQ, with notification given only to the county clerk. 

Grobbel urged property owners to seek legal advice before leasing their land for exploration. For example, he said, a lease agreement should call for restoration of the property when the drilling operation is completed. Most leases include permission for installing an injection well.

“By the time you get to litigation,” he said, “you’ve probably failed.” The terms of your lease aren’t going to change.

Even if a lease isn’t signed, property can be “pooled” to include all land in a certain area. This could result in royalties paid to a non-participating land owner.

If injection wells go in, said an audience member, there has to be some sort of organized response in the case of an emergency—something that goes beyond the local volunteer fire departments.

“We live in one of the great freshwater places in the world,” he said about the Irish Hills region, “and it could all be mucked up.”



Dean Solomon of MSU Extension visited a Shell Oil drilling site in Pennsylvania and reported that vertical wells are drilled to depths between 3,000 and 9,000 feet, then horizontal drilling extends outward 5,000 feet or more.

“The technology is fascinating,” Solomon wrote, “much more high-tech than I imagined.”

At a fracking site, Solomon wrote that millions of gallons of water and sand are continually transported to the site. During each 12-hour shift, 75 employees are on site and 120 vehicles travel in and out.

Extension employee Curtis Talley reviewed a New York Times article about leases for oil and gas wells.

Of more than 100,000 leases studied, fewer than half require companies to compensate land owners for water contamination and damage to livestock and crops.

Most leases give drilling companies discretion about cutting down trees and about the locations to store chemicals, build roads and drill. Companies are also permitted to operate generators and spotlights throughout the night near residences.

Drillers rarely describe to land owners potential environmental and other risks that federal law requires them to disclose to investors.

Most leases are for three to five years, but two-thirds of those reviewed allowed extensions without approval from property owners.

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