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Alto Pass Signs Fracking Ban

Opponents of the mining process known as hydraulic fracturing are praising a recent ordinance signed by the Village of Alto Pass to ban such practices within the city limits.

The ban, suggested as a “symbolic” position by a recent article in the Southern due to the unlikely event hydraulic fracturing would ever come to Alto Pass, has provided hope to Johnson County residents opposed to the practice who are looking for similar measures to take hold here.

“We are very protective of where we live and want to maintain our quality of small town life,” said Alto Pass Trustee Joel Murray. “We know we are a small community, but we’re proud to take the lead and hope that other cities in Southern Illinois will soon follow.”

The Village of Alto Pass recently signed a ban on hydraulic fracturing within its city limits.

Alto Pass is the first municipality in Illinois to pass a ban specifically prohibiting hydraulic fracturing within their jurisdiction, according to a press release issued by the grassroots organization Southern Illinoisans Against Fracking Our Environment [SAFE]. The group congratulated the board for its unanimous vote to approve the ban and called for others communities to follow their lead.

According to the Southern, “the village was already among several municipalities and counties in Southern Illinois to call for a statewide moratorium … Carbondale, Jackson and Union counties are included in that group.”

Local residents of Johnson County who are members of SAFE said they are looking forward to further debate to take place here before any trucks can “start rolling in.” Among the group’s chief concerns are water use and its possible contamination. As its name implies, the process of hydraulic fracturing uses water to fracture bedrock allowing the release of trapped natural gas.

According to, a Web site maintained by Chesapeake Energy Corporation, the second-largest producer of natural gas, “hydraulic fracturing of a typical Chesapeake horizontal deep shale natural gas or oil well requires an average of 4.5 million gallons [of water] per well.”

Johnson County resident and SAFE Media Relations Director Annette McMichael says it is this “horizontal extraction” process and the amount of water it requires that poses a threat to local aquifers, a claim proponents say are unfounded touting a “safe record” in Illinois since the 1940s.

“When the industry today boasts of a safe track record for fracking, they are referring to conventional fracking, i.e., vertical drilling only: straight down and fracturing shale formations around the well bore,” said McMichael, quoting a passage in an open letter SAFE sent to Illinois lawmakers in November along with an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency report it says reveals “traditional vertical hydraulic fracturing has contaminated ground water, caused illness and death to livestock and devalued property values.”

The IEPA report is a 1978 Illinois Oil Field Brine Disposal Assessment of which SAFE posted excerpts of on its Web site,

State Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, and State Reps. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, and John Bradley, D-Marion, were included in the mailing list along with Gov. Pat Quinn as SAFE continues to petition the legislature to provide a moratorium on high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing in Illinois.

A two-year moratorium amendment found its way into a bill passed by the Senate in April which proposed legislation requiring well operators to explain how the produced fluid is disposed as well as disclose the amount of water and the amount of certain chemical ingredients used in fracking.

Senate Bill 3280 unanimously passed the Illinois senate but was blocked in June by Southern Illinois lawmakers due to that amendment, said Rep. Phelps.

“I’m for rules and regulations to do this right, I’m not for two-year moratoriums,” Phelps said in a June 1 article by Harrisburg’s Daily Register. “We’re going to have companies leave Southern Illinois.”

The bill has since been amended to instead require a moratorium only until June 1, 2013 after House leadership re-referred the bill back to the Rules Committee earlier in the year. Senate Bill 3280 was last debated upon by the House on Dec. 5 and given a final action deadline of Jan. 8, 2013.

“We are working to come up with sensible governance to protect ground and surface water and aquifers. The industry can still be used and jobs created in a wise way so that the environment can be protected,” Rep. Bost said in a Dec. 15 article by the Southern. “We are working with environmental groups and the industry to come up with sensible governance.”

Southern Illinois lawmakers Bost and Bradley said they disagreed with the fracking ban Alto Pass issued last week stating such measures are “counter-productive” as they “push to draft legislation for horizontal drilling regulations.”

“We will be working over the holidays to get something in place that will provide a responsible framework,” Bradley said in the article. “I expect at the end of the day Illinois will have extensive regulations to ensure the protection of our water supply.”

As energy companies continue the process of leasing mineral rights in Johnson County with more than 200 such leases already signed, County Commissioners commenting on the Alto Pass ban said they were not opposed to discussing the issues surrounding water usage and its source in the new year.

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