Southern Illinois reaches majority opposition to fracking

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Southern Illinois reaches majority opposition to fracking

By Anna Spoerre, @ASpoerre_DE

In 1949, America was introduced to the Polaroid camera, broadcast color television, the Volkswagen Beetle and fracking.

Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is a method of retrieving natural gas from the Earth by injecting water, sand and chemicals into shale rock at high pressures.

Public opinion against fracking is increasing in southern Illinois, according to a poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

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When it surveyed citizens for encouraging fracking for economic reasons or opposing fracking because of environmental impacts, 52.4 percent were opposed compared to 39.7 percent in a similar 2013 poll.

“There are claims of environmental impact, some of which are pretty dramatic,” said John Jackson, a visiting professor at the Paul Simon Institute.

He said an increase in earthquakes and groundwater contamination are among some of the potential issues being discussed.

However, Jackson said fracking also has the potential to play a positive economic role, such as an increase in jobs. 

“There are always arguments between the environmentalists and then those who believe that we need to do this for the economy,” said Illinois Sen. Dave Luechtefeld.

Luechtefeld said interest in fracking has decreased because lower oil costs have made a need for an alternative energy resource less pressing. Oil barrel prices recently reached lows that have not been seen since the 2009 recession, according to an article published Oct. 5 by The New York Times.

In June 2013, former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a law regulating fracking. When oil prices began dropping during the past year, according to the Chicago Tribune, fracking projects set to begin were left at a standstill. However, the discussion, and controversy, about fracking continues.

Charlie Leonard, a visiting professor to the Simon Institute, said one explanation for the approval rating decline could be because companies who used fracking to explore gas drilling may not be around to make a case, whereas the opponents of fracking live in southern Illinois.

More voters are also becoming aware of these issues, according to the poll, which found 43.1 percent had been exposed to data and opinions on fracking, an increase from 32.3 percent in 2013.

“There’s been a lot more information out there in the national media,” Jackson said. “And it’s been a subject of some controversy.” 

State-wide survey data was gathered, finding other Illinois citizens are less informed and more likely to support fracking than those in southern Illinois.

“The [fracking concept] is almost all focused in southern and southeastern Illinois,” Jackson said.

If fracking companies moved into Illinois, Jackson said they would come to the region because the availability of natural gas. 

Luechtefeld said if oil and natural gas prices go up and money can be made, more jobs can be brought to the area.

“It’s cheap energy, we won’t have to compete for the middle east for oil,” Luechtefeld said. “If it is valuable, I think it can be done safely. There are people who disagree with me. I’ve always felt that you need a balance when it comes to energy.”

Anna Spoerre can be reached at [email protected] or @ASpoerre_DE

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