Fracking in Illinois? State at a Potential Turning Point

Fracking is an energy/waste/water issue that is fracturing communities and legislatures around the country, as citizens and governments decide how best to grapple with the economic benefits vs. the environmental and social costs of the energy-extraction juggernaut properly termed horizontal hydrofracturing. This relatively new method of natural gas extraction is undercutting the economic rationale for burning coal, a notoriously dirty fossil fuel — but while the natural gas produced through fracking burns more cleanly than coal (and emits less GHGs), it poses serious threats to water quality and creates profound impacts on land use and traffic in rural communities.

Fracking diagramThe fracking debate — should we do it? if so, how should it be regulated? — has up to recently been centered in the Eastern US, particularly in Pennsylvania (where fracking operations are running 100mph) and in New York, where critics have mounted an effective resistance to allowing fracking in the state, at least for now. But Illinois is fast becoming a pivotal state in the national debate on fracking.

First it was the prospect of “frac sand” mining at a proposed operation just to the east of heavily visited Starved Rock State Park, a proposal that promised a few dozen jobs and garnered approvals by IL regulatory agencies such as the IL EPA, despite vociferous protests by many environmental groups. Northern IL and large stretches of Wisconsin have significant silica deposits that are highly coveted by fracking mining operations, since the silica is a necessary component of the fracking fluid mixture pumped at superhigh pressures into shale deposits to release trapped natural gas.

Now there’s the issue of potential fracking operations in Southern Illinois, where many rural counties sit atop the “New Albany shale play,” reputed to contain over 10 trillion cubic feet of gas. As reported in this recent article from the Chicago Tribune, politicians in IL are divided over whether to implement what would be the nation’s most stringest (thus far) laws regulating fracking, or to place a moratorium on fracking in IL until its safety can be better assessed. There are no easy answers to this contentious issue.

For more information on specific legislation currently in process here in IL, we recommend this page from the Illinois Environmental Council.

UPDATES: As of March 22nd, a House bill was delayed when an amendment was added that would “require unionized well water contractors at each well site until drillers themselves were licensed” to work in/near groundwater aquifers, as reported here by the Chicago Tribune. Oil and gas industry lobbyists have balked at this seemingly reasonable amendment meant to ensure union work and protect groundwater supplies, and the future of the bill is uncertain, though by no means dead.

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