Local environmental group fights for fracking legislation

A local environmental organization wants state legislators to impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing operations in Illinois.

Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing the Environment, a Jackson-county based group that opposes the method of natural gas extraction from subterranean shale known as “fracking,” met Monday. Members discussed the need to quickly pass laws to regulate fracking in Illinois.

The group also considered ways to educate the public about fracking and its possible consequences, which include ground-water contamination and air pollution.

Liz Patula, spokeswoman for the organization, said fracking may start this June in Saline County.

“Fracking is a very complicated issue,” she said.  “We need to put pressure on Springfield to get the strongest possible regulations.”

One of the problems, Patula said, is that gas companies are not required to divulge any potential hazards associated with fracking when they present leases to the landowners.

Claudia Teller, of Carbondale, said she understood why farmers in Saline County lease the rights to their land for gas exploration.

“The farmers are easy targets because they’re in an economic bind.  The problem is how the farmers get economic help in other ways that don’t destroy the environment,” she said.

Chuck Paprocki, of Carbondale, said because fracking operations will start soon, the best action is to lobby for a moratorium, which would give legislators more time to pass comprehensive laws.

“It’s easier to stop something from happening than to get legislation put into place,” he said.

Mia Tassone, a junior majoring in journalism at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, said many people she talked to didn’t know what fracking was or that it might start in southern Illinois.

Christopher Lant, professor of geography and environmental science, said in an earlier interview fracking is a “NIMBY,” or “not in my back yard,” issue.

The natural gas extraction procedure is generally positive for the country as a whole, but can be detrimental to people living near fracking sites, he said.

Natural gas has become a game-changer, Lant said, because it is the cleanest to burn of the three big fossil fuels — oil, coal and natural gas.

The U.S. is oil poor because supplies were depleted in the past due to high production, but the country has always been rich in coal and natural gas, Lant said.

The country now has more access to natural gas due to hydraulic fracturing, a relatively new process of extraction hydraulic fracturing, he said.

Lant said the country has a 90-year reserve of natural gas. The problem, he said, is how to make good use of that windfall.

He said the number of vehicles that use natural gas as fuel is increasing. They are mostly trucks and buses, which can be refueled at a central location.

People will likely be driving cars fueled by natural gas in the future, Lant said, because natural gas be more available and cost less than gasoline.

“And that’s a good development, because if we were driving natural gas cars, we’d be less dependent on imported oil and it would be quite a bit cleaner,” he said.

He said greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants which cause smog in cities would be substantially diminished if natural gas vehicles were more widely used.

But people are justifiably concerned about fracking, Lant said, because the fluids used in the process are toxic and minor earthquakes can result from the drilling.

“The possibility of the fracking operation contaminating ground water, including public water supplies, is real if they do things carelessly,” he said.

He said people who are concerned about fracking need to pressure elected officials to pass legislation regulating the natural gas industry quickly, but that the regulatory guidance needs to be thorough.

One of the priorities needs to be closing the “Cheney Loophole” in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Lant said.

The Cheney Loophole refers to the exemptions created for oil and gas producers so they wouldn’t have to meet certain requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act, such as disclosing chemicals used in the fracking process, he said.

Lant said one reason there is so much grassroots opposition to fracking is the issue of equity.

“The people that are leasing their land are making money, the gas companies are making money, but the neighborhood absorbs the risk,” he said.  “The regulatory forum also has to address that issue of environmental justice,” he said.

Jack Overstreet, the manager for Next Energy, a Colorado-based company that secured leases for oil and gas exploration in Saline County, said in an email he is in favor of regulating the natural gas industry.

He said he thinks people who do their own research will find that carefully regulated oil and gas exploration is a safe and important part of the country’s economic growth.

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