Citizens address both sides of fracking

By Matt Daray

 

Whether they support hydraulic fracturing or oppose it, community members recently had an opportunity to better understand the process.

Members of pro- and anti-fracking groups presented their arguments during an open forum Friday at Morris Library. Individuals from across southern Illinois learned what fracking is and what it would mean for the area economically and environmentally. The university’s Masters of Public Administration program and the Southern Illinois Mayors’ Association held the presentation in light of an Illinois House of Representatives bill that would put strict regulations on hydraulic fracturing.

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Dan Eichholz, Illinois Petroleum Council associate director, said fracking, a way of completing an oil and gas well by using high-pressure water injected into hydrocarbon formations to open up tiny cracks to allow oil and gas to flow out, is just one process used to collect oil and gas. He said fracking is receiving attention because it can be used to extract oil and gas in a more efficient way than previous methods. Eichholz said fracking, along with horizontal drilling, a process that directs oil and gas pipes horizontally to better collect resources, has single-handedly revolutionized the oil and gas industry.

Brad Richards, Illinois Oil and Gas Association geologist, said oil and gas companies are considering fracking in Illinois because of the surprising amount of oil the state has.

He said Illinois has produced about four billion barrels of oil. In the early 1900s it was the third largest oil producing state in the country, according to the Illinois State Geological Survey from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Richards said fracking would probably not happen in Jackson County given the lack of possible oil and gas wells, but said the process would most likely occur farther east and south of the county.

He said the bill the oil and gas companies as well as Illinois legislators agree on is a historic and strict bill. However, some of the bill’s requirements could be hard to accomplish. The bill would require companies to get a permit to use hydraulic fracturing, give citizens the right to a public hearing if they are affected by the process, and require companies to list what chemicals they use in their fracking water, Richards said.

Chuck Paprocki, Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment volunteer coordinator, said the proposed bill is filled with holes that don’t adequately protect Illinois citizens. State legislators need to collect more research and facts because of environment and community risks, he said.

“The bill currently being negotiated in Springfield is supposed to offer protections, but the holes in the safety net are so large that it is virtually useless even though its proponents call it one of the strictest bills in the country,” he said.

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Richard Fedder, an attorney who volunteers time with SAFE, said fracking wastes water, one of the most important resources for humans.

“Fracking is a massive industrial process which, at its most basic, pushes staggering amounts of fresh water deep underground in order to extract fossil fuels from ancient rock structures,” he said. “In the process, it turns sweet water into toxic waste, which can be disposed of by (removing) it in deep injection wells.”

Fedder said the fracking process also has the potential to contaminate underground freshwater, as well as create air pollution. These instances, combined with unsavory oil and gas company practices, such as illegally dumping fracking water, can result in a multitude of dangerous issues for nature and people alike.

While some forum participants had strong stances on fracking, others were uncertain about the topic.

Carbondale resident Jay Cupp said he came to the forum because he wanted to hear expert opinions. Both sides presented good points, but he was not completely persuaded by either, he said.

“They both made a presentation, and I am not any more comforted or reassured with (fracking) happening,” he said. “I have some more information, now I can do my own research.”

Charles Bargman, a Chester resident, said he came to the forum because he has an interest in a small oil well he receives royalty checks for that could potentially be fracked. While he understands both views of the issue, he said he is unsure which one he favors.

“I don’t know where I stand yet,” he said. “I’m still up in the air, seeking more information.”

However, while some locals were unsure what their take is on fracking, one resident took a stance on the issue.

Makanda resident Jill Adams said she came to the forum because fracking has become a hot topic in southern Illinois, and she wanted to receive more information. She said the forum provided good information, but she would like to see the state go through with a moratorium or a stand-still on making decisions regarding the bill before it decides what to do about fracking.

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