Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

June 5, 2013

Anti-fracking group blames job fear for bill passage

Bill Grimes Daily News
Effingham Daily News

---- — While opponents of high-pressure hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — ponder their next move in the wake of overwhelming legislative support for the procedure, a Colorado-based energy company plans to begin drilling an exploratory well near Xenia later this month.

David Hettlich of Denver-based Strata-X said Tuesday his company has received a permit from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to begin drilling the Burkett 5-34HOR well west of Xenia.

Meanwhile, Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment (SAFE) said in a news release its members were "horrified" that Senate Bill 1715 passed. The group added SB 1715 was a product of political expediency rather than scientific study.

"The resulting bill is woefully inadequate to protect Illinois residents from the known harms horizontal fracking has brought to residents across America," the group said.

Strata-X's Hettlich said the IDNR permit issued Tuesday doesn't allow fracking, or any other procedure beyond drilling.

"It's not a permit to complete the well," Hettlich said, adding that several months of testing will take place before the company determines the best way to proceed. It's possible, he said, that the company will opt against fracking the Xenia well.

Hettlich said a rig from Les Wilson Inc. in Carmi will be used to drill a 4,500-foot deep vertical shaft to the Devonian Lingle formation, rock that underlies the hydrocarbon-rich New Albany Shale formation. Once the well is drilled, workers will extract a core from 60 feet of the rock for testing.

The IDNR permit also allows Strata-X to drill a 4,300-foot long horizontal leg after coring.

Senate Bill 1715 passed overwhelmingly in both the Illinois House and Senate last week, paving the way for what proponents call the strictest fracking regulations in the United States. Hettlich said those regulations — which include regulating where fracking can take place, disclosure of some toxic chemicals used in the process, and mandating water quality testing in the vicinity of fracking sites — do not deter the company's desire to begin drilling in downstate Illinois.

Gov. Pat Quinn said he plans to sign the bill. Quinn spokesman Dave Blanchette said fracking regulation was one of the governor's legislative priorities.

"He certainly plans to sign it, but it hasn't reached his desk," Blanchette said. "We have to look it over and make sure there's nothing in there we don't expect."

Quinn has until the end of July to sign the bill. The Illinois Senate voted 52-3 Friday to send the bill to Quinn, one day after the House voted 108-9 to send it onto the Senate.

"This is a good bill and it's the result of a good-faith effort by lawmakers, industry and labor leaders, environmental groups and members of my administration to ensure Illinois' natural resources are protected," Quinn stated in a news release.

Quinn and other proponents say fracking operations could bring thousands of jobs and billions of dollars into the Illinois economy. Fracking opponents, however, say those estimates are misleading — that most of the high-paying jobs will be filled by workers from outside the area.

Liz Patula of SAFE said the bill passed last week will not provide sufficient safeguards for residents living near fracking sites.

"It's not going to prevent contamination," Patula said. "My real sticking point is that the range of people affected is way beyond the area of mandatory testing."

Patula said it's one thing for a landowner to lease their own land to drilling companies. But it's another thing, she said, to subject one's neighbors to the dangers of fracking.

"Residents will be forced into risks they are not willing to take," she said.

Patula attributed overwhelming legislative support to the fear of being labeled "anti-job," a career-killer for many modern politicians.

"Legislators are so scared that they are willing to take unnecessary risks that could hurt people," she said. "We tried to work hard with downstate legislators.

"For some reason, they were not receptive to realistically discussing issues that are taking place," she said.

The only votes against the fracking regulation bill in either the House or Senate came from Chicago-area Democrats living hundreds of miles away from where high-pressure fracking would be taking place.

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