Was the road to Flint paved by frackers?

A few weeks ago I posed a question here based on something Flint attorney Alec Gibbs had told me back in 2014 about the possible origins of the KWA pipeline. “Could the Flint water crisis have its origins in a desire to open up new areas of Michigan to fracking?,” I asked. And, since then, I’ve been the recipient of a good many emails on the subject, which has continued to grow as more people have picked up the story and run with it. [Most recently, the Detroit Metro Times and Truth Out joined the fray.] For the most part, people just want to speculate as to the possibility that fracking may have entered into the decision. Today, however, someone took it a step further, sending me documentation of a fracking executive and his wife having donated money to the Snyder campaign.


[A larger version of the above image, which contains the amounts donated, can be seen here.]

On October 25, 2013, both John Wilson, the owner of Western Land Services, and his homemaker wife Anita, donated $1,500 to the Michigan for Snyder Campaign. Coincidentally, this happened just as the pipeline was becoming a reality… The Flint City Council approved the plan put forward by Snyder’s Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz to purchase 16 million gallons per day from the KWA on March 25, making the project viable, and allowing it to move forward. On April 15, State Treasurer Andy Dillon gave approval to Kurtz to enter into a water purchase contract with the KWA. On April 16, Kurtz signed the KWA water purchase agreement. In September, according to Wikipedia, “The authority entered final negotiations in September 2013 on an agreement for American Cast Iron Pipe Company to supply 67 miles of spiral weld and iron pipe, additional fittings, bends, reducers and hydrant tees with the final cost expected to be $84.1 million while the estimated cost was $104 million.” And, in October, just as the project was set to begin, Snyder received $3,000 from the Wilsons.

Here, if you’ve never heard of Wilson, is a clip from an article that ran a few years ago in the Detroit Free Press.

…Wilson bought Western Land Services in 1992. It provides land, title, regulator and project services to the oil and gas and utility industries. Many are involved in fracking.

“I’ve watched the technology totally change the energy landscape over the past 10 years,” he said of fracking. “The benefits of fracking have far exceeded the risks, and the risks have been blown way out of proportion by the climate change zealots. That being said, the process needs to be regulated, and it is”…

Is this the smoking gun people have been looking for? Not by a long shot. It’s only evidence that the owner of a company that’s in the business of fracking giving our Governor $3,000. As my source told me, if it were anything even remotely shady, they would have given a lot more than that, and they would have contributed it by way of a Super PAC, so that no public record would exist. Still, though, it got me wondering if perhaps one of our friends in the “real” media might want to pick this story up, like they did a few weeks ago with our story about Snyder’s secret party for his wife, and do a little investigative reporting. Who knows what they might turn up if they start looking into Western Land Services and what they stood to gain from the building of a pipeline bringing fresh, untreated water into potential fracking territory from Lake Huron. [Let’s remember that gas wasn’t $1.50 a gallon back then, and fracking was experiencing a huge boom, as investors were aggressively funding natural gas exploration projects.]

As for why my source decided to investigate potential donations on behalf of the owners of Western Lands Services to the Snyder campaign, he said he remembered that their people had been in the area of the proposed pipeline a few years ago talking with property owners about gas and mineral rights.

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  1. Peter Larson
    Posted February 16, 2016 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Mark Maynard is turning into a local liberal version of Glenn Beck.

  2. Eel
    Posted February 16, 2016 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Just in terms of body type.

  3. Katherine
    Posted February 16, 2016 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    There were likely several factors. It’s been reported that DTE, for instance, had expressed a need for millions of gallons of untreated water. Were frackers at the table? Probably. But this didn’t happen just because of them.

  4. Frosted Flakes
    Posted February 16, 2016 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    There is no equivalency between news outlets amplifying your “birthday-cake-gate” story and someone “picking-up” these scraps of info, investigating and proving causality and actual wrong doing on a scale that could serve as the plot basis of season 3 of “true detective”.

  5. Mr. X
    Posted February 16, 2016 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Ban Michigan Fracking sees a connection, but, according to them, the water being brought to the region would likely be used for drinking water once local well water becomes undrinkable due to the fracking chemicals being pumped into the ground.


    From the Ban Michigan Fracking report:

    (T)he DEQ is right there with industry, promoting it, and mouthing the same propaganda. Brad Wurfel, the disgraced former DEQ spokesperson who recently resigned for his despicable role in the #FlintWaterCrisis (and who said “anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax”) has repeated frack industry talking points like “new fracking technology is a potential game changer for this country.” He also said: “The state’s regulatory program is regarded nationally as one of the toughest — a safe, effective way to allow domestic energy production while protecting the land, air and water.” An interview by the Rockford Squire with DEQ’s Wurfel reads like an ANGA (American Natural Gas Association) commercial, while putting down residents sounding the alarm about the harms of fracking.

    Fracking and drilling planned for Genesee, Lapeer, Sanilac, and St. Clair Counties

    There are plans for fracking and other drilling activity in Genesee, Lapeer, Sanilac, and St. Clair counties. There are already four “high volume, hydraulically fractured,” frack wells (those using over 100,000 gallons of water per well) in Sanilac County: the Schultz, Walker, State Wheatland & Reinelt, and Van Damme wells, all targeting the A-1 Carbonate formation.

    The State auctioned off state-owned mineral rights to acres throughout the area, with 200 acres auctioned in Genesee county near Holloway Regional Park. In 2013 land men from Western Land Services combed the area meeting with landowners, buying their mineral rights. Local residents organized in opposition, with Oregon and Richfield Townships in Lapeer County passing resolutions against fracking. And large gas storage fields (like the Porter Ranch, California storage well that is leaking massive amounts of methane) are located in St. Clair County.

    The frackers sometimes do purchase municipal water

    It’s possible that municipal water from Karegnondi could be used in the future for fracking. The frackers have certainly purchased water from municipalities in the past when groundwater supplies became scare or insufficient. With the Westerman frack well in Kalkaska County the frackers ran out of groundwater, bought public water from the nearby municipality, and when that wasn’t enough for the frack job, resorted to drilling 8 more water wells on site.

    The city of Saline, in Washtenaw County, was selling municipal water for oil and gas drilling in 2012 until residents rose up and stopped it, and the city imposed a moratorium on further water sales.

    The frack industry uses ground water for free. A lot of it.

    Generally, though, the frack industry uses ground water from temporary water wells they drill on the site of the well pad (see above photo). If the frack well is on state land, that means the frackers use this publicly-owned resource for free, and use as much as they want. The hokey, much criticized “water withdrawal assessment tool” (WWAT) is used by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality as a guise to make it appear they’ve considered the quantity of water being removed from the ground. In fact, it does no such thing, records no cumulative records of how much water is removed from the aquifers below, and studies no impacts.

    And when a frack well applicant fails the WWAT, the DEQ staff simply visit the site, and then rubber stamp the approval anyway. One well, which failed the WWAT, used over 21 million gallons of water.

    The frack industry, if it does all the drilling it wants to, will thirst after Michigan water. One estimate from 2013 was if Encana (now sold to Marathon) drilled the 500 wells they projected, the company would use and destroy 4 billion gallons of groundwater, about what Traverse City uses in two years.

    The DEQ keeps this list of the water amounts used by the industry’s recent “high volume hydraulically fractured” wells.

    The millions of gallons of fresh water used for fracking are no longer “water” after it is combined with millions of gallons of chemicals, many of them neurotoxins and cancer-causing. These millions of gallons are permanently taken from the water cycle. To frack, the toxic cocktail is injected underground using extreme pressure to break up the rock formation (or in the case of acidizing, dissolve the rock). What comes back out of the well is even worse, and usually radioactive. These liquid wastes (the industry and DEQ like to call this toxic waste “flowback” and “produced water”) are then put into injection wells and again re-injected deep into the earth’s formations, to be buried supposedly forever. But well casings fail, as researchers and industry itself have studied, allowing these toxins to enter and poison aquifers.

  6. anonymous
    Posted February 16, 2016 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    I don’t understand your point, Frosted Flakes. Are you suggesting that it would be beyond the realm of possibility for a reporter to look into the sale of gas rights along the pipeline’s route and interview the owners of these rights concerning how the KWA might fit into their plans?

  7. Frosted Flakes
    Posted February 16, 2016 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    I think Mark wants to suggest a possible link to Snyder’s self interest with the fracking industry and the water pipeline– even if it was known to pose a real risk to the expense of Flint residents. Do I think it is possible? Yes . I am more being critical of the idea that “cake-gate” was even news. It is not Mark’s fault that people merrily drank up, what in my opinion, was a sensation (garbage) story but Mark, in this post, seemed to make an equivalency between “cake gate” and this potentially not yet uncovered story. Whether or not there is something there, there is no equivalency… Mark wrote about a dozen quality posts on the Flint water crisis dating pretty far back. Cake-gate got the lions share of attention and I find that frightening.

  8. Dan
    Posted February 16, 2016 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    I can send you documentation of a brewery executive and his wife having donated money to the Snyder campaign.

    Was the road to Flint paved by brewers? Their beer may indeed have come from untreated water

  9. anonymous
    Posted February 16, 2016 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    OK, Frosted Flakes, I think I understand where you’re coming from. While you may not have liked the way that Cakegate played out, I do think that, after Mark’s initial post, people started pealing back layers of the onion. In the initial post, there was not a photo of the cake, the restaurant wasn’t named, and Snyder wasn’t identified. With time, however, all of those things surfaced. Clearly Mark is hoping that the same thing will happen in this instance as people start looking at Western Land Services and the relationship with Snyder.

  10. Jean Henry
    Posted February 16, 2016 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    Frosted Flakes still believes people care about journalism. That’s so sweet. Whatever makes people get angry and laugh at once, while simultaneously feeling superior wins the click wars. Nothing plays without a picture. Cake gate was funny. At least they aren’t calling for his head anymore.

  11. charlieRomeo
    Posted February 17, 2016 at 2:16 am | Permalink

    Truth is stranger than fiction.

  12. GMO Free News
    Posted February 19, 2016 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    “The Flint City Council approved the plan put forward by Snyder’s Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz to purchase 16 million gallons per day from the KWA on March 25….”

    How did you come up with the above statement?

    According this news report, Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz did not start his job until the end of March 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFUH073rV1k

    In this March 25, 2015 Mlive article, Kurtz is not mentioned at all:

  13. Posted March 9, 2016 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    Looking for people for a documentary series who is secretly a fracker and wants to reveal this to their family and friends. There is pay. The documentary is a positive show and we are looking for someone now.

One Trackback

  1. […] fracking wells in counties through which the pipeline ran from Lake Huron to Flint (see here and here). I would love to know if anybody has FOIA’d documents from the state, Flint, and the KWA […]

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