Property owners questioned possible effects to land and water from natural gas drilling at a meeting in Traverse City last night. The industry is buying leases across the region to explore a deep shale formation that shows promise.
All new natural gas wells use a technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. It pumps millions of gallons of water into a well to force open the rock to get at more of the gas.
National stories, and a new documentary, say it's led to gas and other contaminants getting into drinking water in other states, such as Pennsylvania.
Those in the gas industry and state regulators say Michigan has much stricter rules to protect groundwater.
That didn't necessarily put everyone's mind at ease.
"I thought I was decided 'til I came here," said Dave Simler of Suttons Bay.
He says he now knows he hasn't gotten real good answers from those offering to drill for gas about what might happen if there's a spill on his land.
"We are on well water and if that's contaminated what are we going to do? Are they going to truck bottles of water in to us for the rest of our life?"
Chris Grobbel, an environmental consultant in Traverse City and a former state regulator, says even with strict state regulations accidents can happen. He says most spills are caused by human error or when equipment like a pipeline fails.
"There are thousands of us in the state of Michigan who've spent careers cleaning up things that weren't going to leak and promised not to leak," Grobbel says.
Others at the meeting said the concerns about fracking are being overblown.
A couple of speakers said landowners can do a lot to minimize their risks by getting help when negotiating a contract with an oil and gas company.
MSU Extension in Grand Traverse County has a sample of what questions to consider on their web site.