Tension on Au Sable and Manistee rivers

To hear Anglers of the Au Sable First Vice President Tom Baird tell it, the Au Sable and Manistee Rivers, which flow east and west, respectively, from their headwaters north of Grayling, boast some of the most pristine recreational waters in the state. Trout fishermen flock here every spring and stake out angling spots in the “Holy Waters,” an 8.7-mile stretch of the Au Sable known for its wadeable water, dependable insect hatches and quality trout fishing.

Last October, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources approved the lease of property along the Holy Waters for oil and gas development, raising the specter of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, wells next to the trout stream. The Anglers of the Au Sable cried foul and launched a campaign that American Angler magazine dubbed the “holy wars.” In response, DNR director Keith Creagh in December changed the leases along the Holy Waters to prohibit above ground development.

“We can accomplish our oil and gas management goals in this corridor without surface development,” Creagh said at the time. “Advances in technology allow us to limit surface use. We look forward to working with citizens to identify special places where surface development should be limited.”

Doug Hock, Encana’s director of community and public relations, held out the option that the company could still use horizontal drilling to access mineral resources near the river.

“We have a good working relationship with DNR and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ),” said Baird, “but we are critical of some of their efforts… We see a need to remain vigilant with respect to actions of industry, the DNR and DEQ.”

There have been other tensions between the Anglers and Encana. In 2011, a north branch of the Manistee River near Grayling nearly dried up; the Anglers claim Encana’s fracking operation nearby was the culprit. Encana has also pushed for new frack pads carrying multiple wells near the Manistee and Au Sable headwaters.

The Anglers’ concerns about fracking have evolved from the chemicals and risks of pollution to the amount of fresh water used — potentially as much as 35 million gallons per well, according to a study of permit applications.

“We’re starting to learn that the possibility of pollution from two miles underground is fairly low,” said Baird. “The big issue is water use. They’re pulling fresh water from nearby aquifers to the surface. That causes a drawdown of the aquifer, and can have an adverse effect on streams and rivers and their flow.”

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Donna Sickels
Thu, 05/22/2014 - 8:56am
Michigan has plenty of water, like we are never going to run out of water as in the west.Drought!! What happens when just one of these fracked wells pollutes just one river? Who is going to clean the river and what ever it runs into. like Lake Michigan.I disagree with fracking, I believe there should be a limit on how many wells are fracked and where they are located.
Bob From The North
Thu, 05/22/2014 - 9:43am
OK Donna, What happens when You have to heat Your home or have to drive Your car with coal or maybe You prefer wind powered cars or sunshine (only) heated houses. Fracking is Very safe and unless You are getting Your drinking water from the fracked depth, there is a better chance of winning the lotto than fracked water getting into drinking water. As for fishing? Have You ever been out west to Yellowstone or to New Zealand fishing where poisons (acids) by the billions of gallons are supplying the waters for rivers and the best fishing in the world is to be had. Take a pill and chill out. You and all Your tree hugging 19th century way of lifers need to get Your head out of the democrat party posterior and enjoy life.
Thu, 05/22/2014 - 10:44am
Bob, it's possible to respond to her concerns without name calling.
Thu, 05/22/2014 - 10:55am
In response to Bob.....you better get your head out of your own sand pile and understand that resources are limited and they must be protected at any cost! Sustainability is the new mantra Bob. The rest of the world is trying to consume like we do and that spells doom for all of us. We are polluting at a lesser rate but still have a ways to go before we stop killing ourselves with air and water pollution. Even in the more pristine northern reaches of Michigan pollutants have been found. They are carried by the wind and end up in our lakes and rivers. Our rate of consumption must be curtailed and brought into a realistic reusable system of manufacturing and reuse of raw resources. Our addiction to oil is out of control. Think about your children and their children when you make statements like you have Bob! And as far as political parties are concerned, both are ignorant and unable to see the future they are leaving us.
Eunice Burns
Thu, 05/22/2014 - 11:13am
Bob from Up North, What happens when your water supply is either gone or severely polluted? What do you use? One fact that is often forgotten is that water is a finite resource and our fresh water supply MUST be protected!!! And we should be thinking of it now because we want to protect it for our future generations. Even though it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, at this point in time to get along without gas and oil products, try to get along without water for 7 days and you are either dead or close to it.
Fri, 05/23/2014 - 8:23pm
Fracking proponents argue for energy independence. In truth, the companies drilling in Michigan just want to sell cheap gas to China. The cost in water, and the extreme danger of pollution and lasting damage to Michigan's environment and way of life, makes the trade off a losing proposition in Michigan. Stop fracking in Michigan.
Wed, 05/28/2014 - 5:50pm
As I read with disbelieve that the head of the dnr will limit above ground development along the 8.7 mile stretch. As a past employee of dowell In Kalkaska. Here are the facts. First a drilling rig has to be moved to the site. Second if they hit pay dirt they will put a tree on the well bore. Third not all wells need to be fracked. Some wells will flow on their own and others need a pump to bring the fluid to the surface. There are a couple of wells on the Boardman at Schecks camground . Just my insight so the dnr is wrong saying on above ground development will be limited.