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National Sea Grant Law Center to Fund MLaw Research Project

Great Lakes oil pipelines, natural gas "fracking" scrutinized

May 17, 2011
Contact: John Masson, 734.647.7352,

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—A grant to be awarded this spring will help Michigan Law students and faculty conduct a year-long legal research project to study the effects of oil and gas exploration on the Great Lakes.

The $25,000 grant from the National Sea Grant Law Center, with additional support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, will help six Michigan Law students and a professor conduct a comprehensive analysis of the legal framework governing oil and gas development and how it affects Great Lakes water resources. The law students will work with the National Wildlife Federation, its state partners, and Michigan Sea Grant on the project.

Sara Rollet Gosman, a Michigan Law adjunct professor who also is a water resources attorney at the National Wildlife Federation, will lead the project. She said an analysis of the issues in the Great Lakes surrounding aging oil pipeline stock and the hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," of shale to obtain natural gas are long overdue.

Both have been hot topics in the Great Lakes region recently: a ruptured pipeline in western Michigan last summer spilled a million gallons of crude oil into a river leading to Lake Michigan. Fracking in Pennsylvania has caused controversy because of potential contamination of drinking water, and New York has banned the process until regulations are put in place. Meanwhile, deep fracking is just beginning in states like Michigan and Ohio.

Gosman said the study will focus equally on both issues.

Students selected for the project are 1Ls Lesley MacGregor, Gabe Tabak, James Woolard, Scott Robinson, and Susie Shutts, and 2L Joey Friedman. Shutts and Woolard are also slated to work as summer interns with NWF this year. The study will lead to a final report early next year, complete with policy recommendations, and a panel discussion to be sponsored by Michigan Law's Environmental Law & Policy Program in March.

"This project is a great opportunity for students to work on cutting-edge environmental issues in the Great Lakes region," said Gosman. "The report and panel discussion will inform policymakers, stakeholders, and the public about the laws and the possibilities for reform."

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