Michigan Potash Company Hits Another Snag
Project Already More than 2 Years Behind Schedule
Osceola County, Michigan 9/16/16:
Michigan Potash Company anticipated quick approval of 3 waste-injection wells in Hersey & Evart Townships for their planned solution-mine and hoped to break ground this Fall. Permitting problems have now thrown that timetable out the window. This setback adds further delay to a project which was originally slated to start in mid-2014.
On July 8th, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced that pending permits for 3 waste-injection wells were on hold for an indeterminate amount of time due to a high volume of interest from private citizens.
What is Potash Solution-Mining?
“MPC’s potash mine would be a huge undertaking, producing over a million tons per year and leases on 14,000 acres of land in two counties,” according to Doug Miller who lives near the site. “Solution-mining pumps tremendous quantities of fresh water into underground salt formations, where it dissolves the minerals, forming large caverns. The resulting hot, highly-corrosive brine solutions (laced with traces of toxic ‘control-fluids’) return to the surface and are piped to a central refinery. The water is boiled off to produce the desired products. Remaining wastes are then injected into the ground under high pressure.”
Area Residents Feel Project Is Being “Railroaded”
As Ken Ford, who lives down the road from the proposed site sees it: “Michigan Potash (MPC) has issued press-releases and held meetings with local boards to create the impression that this project is a ‘done-deal’. If you buy into that view, it’s totally disheartening. Take a quiet rural area and suddenly introduce 140 large trucks per day, nauseating hydrogen-sulfide gas emissions, dust, equipment roaring 24/7, and waste-wells that threaten your water. That’ll destroy an area’s way of life.”
“Kept In Dark” About Waste-Wells,
Landowners Then Flood EPA With Letters
Very few local residents had heard about MPC’s planned waste-disposal wells. “I had no idea these wells were in the works,” says Douglas Miller, who lives close to the site. “It was almost by chance that I discovered these waste-well permits. Public participation was neither wanted nor welcome.” Once a few local landowners realized what was afoot, they called others and urged them to press the EPA for a public hearing. The effort was successful, and resulted in the permits being held up.
Residents Joined By Large Environmental Group
In their search for information on waste-disposal wells, landowners encountered members of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation (MCWC), an established environmental organization which has been fighting similar waste-injection wells in neighboring Mecosta County.
Did The EPA Lack Vital Information?
MCWC board member Jeff Ostahowski described how his group obtained 290 pages of drilling records for old oil, gas, and mineral wells in the area. “A lot of drilling took place here over the years, and records are stored at Clarke Library at Central Michigan University. We obtained copies and forwarded them to the EPA. It’s extremely important that all old wells within 2 miles of these waste-wells be identified and tested. If any one of these wells is insufficiently plugged, it can serve as a conduit for wastes to move upward into fresh-water aquifers.”
Mr. Ostahowski doubts that the EPA knew about many of these old wells: “I don’t think that Michigan Potash Company bothered looking for old wells. Finding, testing, and plugging them will be expensive and time-consuming. They’re more than two years behind schedule and appear to be in a hurry.”
Mr. Miller believes the well records were key to the EPA’s decision to slow things down: “Earlier this year, the Government Accounting Office chastised the EPA for poor management of its Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program. From that, and the Flint debacle, the EPA has learned some lessons. Our own Michigan DEQ is another matter.”
MPC Receives Permit To Emit Dusts & Toxic Gas
DEQ Operates “Under The Radar”
In July, residents discovered that, four months earlier, Michigan’s Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) granted MPC a permit to emit large quantities of hydrogen sulfide gas, which is listed as being “very poisonous, corrosive, flammable, and explosive”. That permit also allows the release of unusually high amounts of other gases and various dusts. No public notice was given, nor comments taken.
No Environmental Studies For Sensitive Site
MCWC board member John McLane, a professional surveyor, is surprised that this permitting process is proceeding at all: “I can’t believe that the DEQ is already giving out permits! This project sits right smack-dab in the middle of some of the most environmentally sensitive land I’ve ever seen. They plan to transport tremendous quantities of hot, toxic brine solutions thru a network of pipes over land they’ve leased. That’s 14,000 acres underlain by shallow, unprotected aquifers, and drained by a network of springs, creeks, ponds, lakes, and wetlands on four different watersheds flowing into the nearby Muskegon River. They’ll consume untold amounts of fresh water and operate at least three waste-injection wells. It’s hard to imagine a worse site for doing any of this! Yet the State of Michigan is issuing permits without an Environmental Impact Statement? This is ludicrous!”
Company Structured To Avoid Liability For Damage
Mr. Ostahowski is concerned that local residents could be left “holding the bag”. “This mining company is operating as an LLC, or ‘Limited Liability Corporation’. Actually, this LLC is part of a chain of LLC’s. With that type of structure in place, and if serious damage occurs, what’s to stop them from just walking away?”
Mr. Miller wonders why MPC’s project even exists: “Over the years, three large companies have tried potash-mining just west of us. They had a much better site, but never made the kind of money they expected. The Michigan Potash Co. site is not only environmentally risky, it has no prospects for either rail or boat access, making transportation prohibitively expensive. When you factor in a chronically depressed potash market, you begin to wonder what they’re really mining here: potash, or investment dollars?”
Waste-Disposal Could Be Key
MCWC’s Ostahowski believes he knows how Michigan Potash could make money in Hersey: “Hazardous waste-injection has become big business in Michigan. Our governor seems to be all for it, and the DEQ is helping make it happen. MPC would have everything in place to do that here. Plus, they’d have the added benefit of some large salt caverns for disposal of wastes which are too thick or gummy to shove into conventional injection wells. Even without potash profits, this could be a cash-cow, up until they have their first accident.”
submitted by Doug Miller of Oseola County Water Protectors, a committee of MCWC