Research & Commentary: Hydraulic Fracturing in Michigan

Published October 22, 2012

On Wednesday, October 24, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources will auction off state-owned rights to several oil and gas leases affecting approximately 164,000 acres in the state. The land sale will allow more oil and gas exploration, some of which may employ hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

Opponents of fracking have raised concerns about its impact on the environment and public health, and these should be evaluated based on proper scientific and economic analyses. Some activists claim expansion of fracking would put hundreds of thousands of acres, primarily in Michigan’s lower peninsula, at risk of environmental damage and threaten the air and water quality of nearby communities.

Scientists from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and from several other state and federal agencies have all attested there is no evidence showing environmental or public health consequences from hydraulic fracturing or any other element of natural gas exploration.

A recent study by Yale University researchers found natural gas exploration does involve some risks, but they’re highly manageable. The Yale study group’s report concluded the economic benefits of natural gas exploration exceed the cost to the community by a ratio of 400 to one. Burning of natural gas emits just over half the carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of coal and fewer pollutants.

Hydraulic fracturing is an important element of the natural gas exploration process that can lead to substantial economic benefits, especially in Michigan, which has the largest reserve of natural gas in the Great Lakes region and the worst unemployment rate, at 9.4 percent. A 2012 analysis by IHS Global Insight reported unconventional natural gas development in Michigan accounted for 28,063 total jobs in 2010 and is projected to increase to 63,380 jobs by 2035.

Michigan would enjoy huge economic benefits by selling all lease rights it doesn’t need and by having the Department of Environmental Quality swiftly approve oil and gas extraction projects.

The following documents provide additional information about the safety and benefits of hydraulic fracturing.


Ten Principles of Energy Policy
Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast outlines the ten most important principles for policymakers confronting energy issues, providing guidance about ongoing changes in markets, technology, and policies adopted in other states, supported by a thorough bibliography.

DEQ on Fracking—’Not a Single Incident in 60 Years and 12,000 Wells’
Brad Wurfel, a scientist and communications director for Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, tells the Rockford Squire that claims about dangers of hydraulic fracturing have been exaggerated. 

State Regulators on Hydraulic Fracturing
The research and public outreach campaign Energy in Depth collected testimonials from numerous state regulators from all over the country, each of whom concluded the hyped-up claims of environmental or public health risks from hydraulic fracturing were unsupported. 

Research & Commentary: Hydraulic Fracturing and Air Quality
Heartland Institute Policy Analyst Taylor Smith assesses air quality concerns over hydraulic fracturing. The Truth About Fracking
Reason TV’s Nick Gillespie interviews Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey about the environmental risks and economic benefits of hydraulic fracturing. Bailey says New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is wrong to claim federal agencies that have allowed fracking have not adequately studied the issue. 

Why Natural Gas? Jobs: Michigan
America’s Natural Gas Alliance profiles the role of natural gas in Michigan’s state economy. According to analyses by IHS Global Insight, unconventional gas production in Michigan was responsible for 28,063 jobs in 2010, and that number is projected to increase to 63,380 by 2035. 

Shale Gas by the Numbers
Yale University economic researchers report their cost-benefit analysis of shale gas drilling; they conclude the economic benefit exceeds the cost to the community by a ratio of 400 to one.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the Environment & Climate News Web site at, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland Institute Policy Analyst Taylor Smith at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.