There has been significant momentum behind natural gas extraction efforts in the United States, with many states embracing it as an opportunity to create jobs and foster economic strength. Natural gas extraction has also been championed as a way to move toward energy independence and a cleaner energy supply. First demonstrated in the 1940’s, hydraulic fracturing is now the predominant method used to extract natural gas in the U.S.
As domestic natural gas production has accelerated in recent years, however, the hydraulic fracturing process has come under increased public scrutiny. Concerns include perceived lack of transparency, chemical contamination, new techniques, water availability, waste water disposal, and impacts on ecosystems, human health, and surrounding communities.
The Hydraulic Fracturing in Michigan Integrated Assessment (IA) is the result of a unique partnership involving several University of Michigan units, industry representatives, environmental organizations, and state regulators that formed in 2012 in order to examine the multiple aspects of this gas extraction technique with an emphasis on impacts and issues related to the State of Michigan.
The project was a partnership of U-M's Graham Sustainability Institute, Energy Institute, Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, and Risk Science Center.
The goal of the IA was to present information that expands and clarifies the scope of policy options in a way that allows a wide range of decision-makers to make choices based on their preferences and values. To do so, the IA does not advocate for a single, recommended course of action. Rather, the IA presents information about the likely strengths, weakness, and outcomes of various courses of action in order to support informed decision making.
Upon release, the seven technical reports together formed the most comprehensive Michigan-focused resource on hydraulic fracturing.
Drawing upon the information provided by the technical reports, additional peer-reviewed materials, stakeholder input, and expert peer review, the final report offers an analysis of Michigan-specific policy options for high-volume hydraulic fracturing with a focus on three key issues: chemical use, water resources, and public participation.
Praised by both state regulators and environmental organizations, the IA was also cited by Governor Snyder in a March 2015 special message for its usefulness for evaluating options for hydraulic fracturing:
"The [revised administrative] rules that took effect this week regarding high volume hydraulic fracturing were developed while key decision-makers from the state were participating in the first phase of an integrated assessment by the University of Michigan's Graham Institute. That helped us see an opportunity to strengthen our protection of water and give the public more information…The Graham Institute is now well into the second phase of its integrated assessment and the State will be among the many entities giving public comment to the researchers. The State looks forward to reading the final assessment and considering whether further rule changes or other improvements should be proposed."
To download the project deliverables and learn more about the process, see the Hydraulic Fracturing IA Resources Page.