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‘Fracking’ critics seek more safeguards in Illinois

BLOOMINGTON — With Illinois lawmakers poised to vote on a bill that would allow “fracking” in Illinois, a documentary filmmaker and a noted environmentalist/author joined local activists Monday to speak against the controversial drilling method.




Josh Fox, writer and director of “Gasland II,” sequel to an Emmy Award-winning, Oscar-nominated documentary, attended a fundraiser at the Illinois People’s Action office at 510 E. Washington St., Bloomington, before the film’s premiere Monday night at the Normal Theater. He and fellow event guest Sandra Steingraber are expected to testify Tuesday in a House committee hearing in Springfield.

“We are very worried about the impact on our communities in downstate Illinois, as well as the threat of pollution and contamination of our air, water and soil quality across the state,” said Barbara Heyl, a member of IPA’s campaign against hydraulic fracturing.

Hydraulic fracturing — fracking — is a controversial process that uses high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals to crack rock formations to release oil and natural gas.

Steingraber, an author and biologist, argues fracking releases much more than oil and natural gas, and in a shallow shale area like Illinois’ New Albany shale, pollutants and radioactive gases could escape into aquifers, even through the cement shell cases as they age.

“Once you frack, you can’t go back,” she told a reporter. “It’s like shattering the lid on Pandora’s box.”

An Illinois native and graduate of Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan universities, Steingraber detailed her experiences with cancer she blamed on drinking water in her hometown of Pekin in the book “Living Downstream.” Now living in New York, she also has been active in the fight to ban fracking there.

Steingraber said the Illinois General Assembly is rushing to approve the practice without first conducting scientific studies on the potential effect on the health of the environment and Illinois residents. New York State has been studying the environmental implications of fracking for four years, while Illinois hasn’t done a single study, she said.

“You want good science to inform the regulations,” Steingraber said. “Yet, you’re putting forth rules that are just made up by politicians working behind closed doors with no science informing them.”

Fox remarked on his efforts to document the negative effects of the practice in Pennsylvania and the fight to ban it in New York State.

“We ask the question: Why isn’t the government doing something? Why aren’t (citizens opposed to fracking) being protected by their own government?” Fox said.

The bill that may be voted on this week by the Illinois House seeks a balance between safety and responsible economic development, said Kyna Legner, Midwest field director for Energy In Depth, a group arguing in favor of fracking.

“We can still move forward without fear that everything is going to get away from us,” Legner said. “We have safeguards in place.”

The McLean County Board in February approved a resolution urging the state to allow county-level regulation of the practice.

L.E. Hlavach contributed to this report.

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