Now is perfect time for Gov. Snyder to order fracking review

Gov. Rick Snyder deserves a lot of credit for proposing to spend more than $100 million on a year-long effort to protect and restore Michigan’s vast water resource, the greatest in the nation.

The “water strategy” initiative will focus on dealing with invasive species, toxic pollution, large-scale water withdrawals for irrigation and manufacturing, beach monitoring and upgrading sewage infrastructure. It will also address conflicts between users.

A key goal will be to recognize how important water will be to Michigan’s economic future.

“Water will be the key reason why people will come to Michigan to live, work and play,” said Dan Wyant, director of the Department of Environmental Quality. “It’s going to be a catalyst for new technology and job creation.”

That’s all true, and it has never been more appropriate for the state to formally address the state’s water future and lay the groundwork for the decades of work it will take to protect our water and our future.

For as much as water holds the key to economic success, squandering the resource could also spell our ruin.

As smart and timely as Snyder’s water strategy is, however, there is a gaping hole that could, unless it is adequately addressed, dwarf all other water-related efforts – the short- and long-term effects of massive water withdrawals linked to hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, and in particular horizontal fracking.

In layman’s terms, fracking is the process of pumping a mix of water, chemicals and sand under high pressure into oil and gas formations to break up underground structures and free more oil and gas.

Vertical fracking, which has been around for a very long time, typically uses a couple million gallons of fresh water.

But horizontal fracking, a variation on the process that has been in much greater use since the 1990s, uses much more water – as much as 10 million gallons or much more per well.

Critics of the process point out that those millions of gallons of fresh water are contaminated during the fracking process and can ever be used again.

The debate over fracking in Michigan is notable for not only its volume and passion but the conflicting claims made by both sides, all of it backed by “science,” good and bad.

Snyder could do much to advance the debate by ordering a reliable, fact-based analysis of the long-term implications of fracking for Michigan.

This is a policy discussion Michigan must have now, not 10 years and potentially hundreds of wells from now.

Our “water strategy” demands it.