When oil prices dropped off in recent years, it put the practice of high-volume hydraulic fracturing on simmer in Illinois for the time being.
“Fracking” is an often controversial method of extracting oil and natural gas. The process increases production of the resources from underground rock formations by injecting fluids under pressures great enough to fracture the oil- and gas-producing formations, according the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Southern Illinois residents are still boiling over about how the debate over fracking played out. On the one hand, proponents in the oil industry feel slighted from a missed economic windfall when the state put a stop to the hydraulic fracturing, and regulations were later passed. On the other hand, environmental advocates contend the risks of fracking aren’t worth the reward.
“With Clay County unemployment like it has been, I would have loved to see fracking take off,” said Clay County Board President Ted Whitehead, who is still indignant that the window on fracking has closed for the time being with the drop in oil prices.
“Bigger companies thought there was a play down here,” Whitehead said. “People aren’t going to like that I say this, but the state got involved and slowed everything down with their regulations.”
Striking a nerve
Whitehead, who has worked in the oil industry for 40 years, said the issue has “struck a nerve on both sides.”
“The technology has come so far in this industry,” said Whitehead. “There has been a lot of misinformation put out by people who are against this.”
The lifelong Clay County resident said he doesn’t have any reservations about national reports of water contamination and earthquakes in states where fracking was prominent. He didn’t hesitate about the idea of fracking under his home.
“I wouldn’t have a problem with it,” said Whitehead.
With existing land leases on property for fracking in Clay County and historical trends of returning oil prices and demand, Whitehead said fracking could return. But with the hit the oil industry took from the drop in oil prices and fewer regulations in other parts of the country, he said the region has lost out on an immeasurable amount money.
“Two of the biggest financial assets in this area are oil and farming,” said Whitehead, who noted the heritage of traditional oil wells in Clay County. “We definitely missed an opportunity.”
Chris Young, an Illinois Department of Natural Resources spokesperson, confirmed Whitehead’s contention about a loss of interest in fracking in southern Illinois, where the majority of fracking was to take place.
“Nobody has applied for a permit for high-volume hydraulic fracturing this year,” said Young.
Among the many restrictions, the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act prohibits drilling within certain distances of bodies of water and streams.
Tabitha Tritt, co-founded Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment, has concerns about unsustainable energy in general, but especially with the risks involved with fracking.
She sourced some of the Environmental Protection Agency’s findings to support her anti-fracking stance. Tritt pointed to several studies when bemoaning the possible effects to drinking water and alleged seismic activity caused by fracking.
“The New Madrid is definitely scary,” said Tritt, referring to the large fault that was responsible for one of the largest earthquakes in North America’s history.
Her organization protested in Springfield against fracking, and she said the organization will continue to fight if fracking returns with a rebound in oil prices. To her knowledge, the farthest north fracturing has occurred thus far was near Stephen A. Forbes Lake in Marion County.
“Continuing to extract oil and gas and release carbon into the atmosphere is going to exacerbate climate issues,” she said. “We have to find more sustainable forms of energy.”
Tritt would like to see an all-out ban on fracking in Illinois. She believes the EPA and IDNR were inept in handling an explosion in Wayne County on a hydraulic fracturing site in 2014.
“The whole thing was hush hush,” said Tritt.
After filing for a Freedom of Information Act request about the incident, she contends information was blacked out in the report.
“I believe there are loopholes in these regulations,” said Tritt.
Tritt said although there are regulations on the gallons of water that can be used for hydraulic fracking, she believes oil companies are likely tapping off of existing oil wells and use nitrogen and gas to extract oil through horizontal fracturing.
“The oil companies know how to get around the rules,” she said.
Tritt, who lives in the Shawnee National Forest, said she has received significant negative response for her involvement in fighting fracking. She’s disheartened by the idea that fracking could return if oil prices rise.
“I don’t know why how they don’t see that every decision has a consequence when it comes to the water and our earth,” Tritt said.
Financial gain doesn’t justify harming the world we live in, she said.
“Greed will be the ultimate demise of humanity,” she lamented. “We want to put a monetary value on everything, but we can’t put one on our drinking water and the earth.”