Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

December 17, 2013

Opponents voice concerns at fracking hearing

Bill Grimes
Effingham Daily News

EFFINGHAM — Monkey suits usually refer to tuxedos or uniforms.

But a Jackson County man at a public hearing Monday wore a real monkey suit to make a point about high-volume hydraulic fracturing, popularly known as fracking.

"I'm not native to this area, so I feel like I am fighting for everybody," said Gene Krahl, a graduate student in philosophy at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. "You don't have to be a resident of this area for this to affect you."

"You are the irresponsible ones here," said Krahl to the hearing panel. "It can't be made safe and should be stopped in Illinois."

Monday's hearing at the Effingham Holiday Inn was the third in a series of five hearings on proposed regulations that would govern the fracking process. The hearings are being conducted by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to gauge public input on fracking — which involves drilling a vertical well several hundred feet, then drilling horizontally for several thousand feet to access oil and gas locked into the New Albany shale formation.

Most of the speakers identified themselves as either from the Chicago or Carbondale areas. Chicago hosted a hearing late last month, while Carbondale's hearing is set for Thursday.

Nearly all of the speakers Monday warned the panel about what they perceive to be the short- and long-term dangers of fracking. Concerns brought up repeatedly throughout the hearing were radioactivity, enforcement, water pollution and chemical disclosure. But one speaker warned of the danger of increased seismic activity in a region with two earthquake faults.

Kay Ahaus, who identified herself as a longtime Oklahoma resident who now lives in the Clinton County community of Trenton, said Oklahoma has been experiencing frequent minor earthquakes in areas where fracking operations are taking place. She also complained about the distance she had to drive (150 miles round trip) to attend the Effingham hearing.

"You should be holding these hearings in any county where fracking might take place," she said. "And, you should be holding these hearings after the holidays and not in inclement weather."

The Effingham hearing had already been delayed once because of bad weather. Monday's hearing attracted about 100 people, many of whom held green or red thumbs-up signs when a speaker said something they agreed with.

Roosevelt University student Dylan Anlin of Chicago said one reason people felt compelled to attend the Effingham hearing is that more than 50 people were turned away from speaking at the Nov. 26 hearing in Chicago.

"There should be more public hearings," Anlin said. "It's a major issue in addressing climate change.

"Fracking is a terrible route to go down if we're serious about climate change."

Stan Bratman of Chicago said the fracking regulations were poorly written to prevent environmental ills.

"Global warming and pollution are huge problems," Bratman said. "I would encourage a closer look at wind and solar power."

Bratman reminded the panel that their mission should be to protect people.

"It's your job to protect us — not the oil and gas companies," he said.

Sierra Club member Joyce Blumenshire of Peoria said the proposed regulations are "greatly lacking."

"They open the door for fracking operations to begin without public input," she said.

Another speaker said that the time may soon come for civil disobedience.

"It will soon be time to put our bodies between machinery and the whores operating that machinery," said Angel Sides, who did not say where she was from.

But not everybody at Monday's meeting was in favor of stopping high-volume fracking in Illinois.

Teutopolis resident Mike Hewing said he remembers a day when his father would take him quail hunting in southeastern Illinois. Along the way, they stopped in communities that Hewing said were thriving.

Hewing said fracking — conducted with the proper precautions — could help oil and gas producers recover from a blow that was struck nearly two generations ago.

"The windfall profits tax passed in the '70s annihilated southern Illinois," Hewing said. "I think with fracking, we have an opportunity we shouldn't pass up."

The only other local speaker was Dr. Dan Niebrugge of Effingham, who treats children with cancer as a pediatric oncologist. Niebrugge expressed concern about the chemicals used in the fracking process.

"My concern is about all these chemicals that we don't know about," said Niebrugge, who added that he'd like to see more studies done on those chemicals.

Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, or at bill.grimes@effinghamdailynews.com