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Groups speak out against fracking

Matt Daray | Daily Egyptian April 14, 2013 Several organizations took the initiative to protect southern Illinois’ wilderness and wildlife by asking for more restrictions in proposed state legislation.

Pro-nature groups, including the Sierra Club Shawnee Group and Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment, pleaded their stance against hydraulic fracturing to the Jackson County Board April 3. The groups recommended the board send a letter to state officials to ask for the power to ban, tax or further regulate area hydraulic fracturing as the Illinois House of Representatives considers a bill that would restrict hydraulic fracturing by making companies follow strict guidelines.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure to fracture shale rocks and release natural gas stored inside, according to the pro-environment group Earthworks.

Geologic formations may contain large quantities of oil or gas but have a poor flow rate because of low permeability, damage or clogging of the formation during drilling, according to Earthworks data. Hydraulic fracturing stimulates wells drilled into these formations, which nakes it possible to extract resources from them at a cheaper rate than that of other practices.

The Illinois House’s bill requires companies to have a fracturing permit, disclosure of some of the fracking fluid’s ingredients, safety control and liability from the companies for any damages they may cause, said Christopher Lant, professor of geography and environmental resources. While some the bill could use work, he said, it provides thorough fracking regulation and would affect any hydraulic fracturing operations if passed.

Barbara McKasson, chair of the Shawnee Group of the Sierra Club, said the group is opposed to area hydraulic fracturing because of its negative effects on community health and the environment’s well-being.

“We had thought before that natural gas could be a bridge fuel as we fazed out coal, but now we realize, no, it’s not a bridge, it is a gangplank to our own destruction,” she said. “So we definitely oppose developing these new … projects. We don’t want them to come to Illinois.”

The Shawnee Group approached the Jackson County Board, to persuade legislatures to allow towns to have some fracking regulation control, McKasson said. Some parts of the bill, such as the distance fracking areas can be from public locations such as schools and churches, should be stricter, she said.

McKasson said the group has looked at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration studies that indicate fracking locations are leaking methane. She said this methane is worse for the environment than carbon dioxide. While the fracking process would create new jobs, most workers would be out-of-state fracking company employees who travel where their companies need them to send their earnings back to their families. This process would take away job opportunities for the southern Illinois community, she said.

Lant said in an email he is finishing a paper regarding the state’s fracking bill. Hydraulic fracturing raises many questions because it benefits the country by providing jobs and cheap sources of energy but also poses environmental ramifications, he said.

Some fracking incidents include the deaths of 17 cattle in Louisiana, after the animals were said to have consumed groundwater that contained fracking fluid, as well as an incident in Garfield County, Colo., which released 30 tons of benzene, a chemical found in gasoline and other fuels that can cause leukemia and may affect bone marrow and blood production after long-term exposure, he said. However, the U.S. is fairly reliant on hydraulic fracturing and provided most of the world’s shale gas in 2000, he said.

“From an environmental standpoint, hydraulic fracturing has generated a new set of trade-offs that the political and legal system continues to work its way through,” he said. “There is clear evidence reported in the most prestigious scientific journals of environmental impacts to air and water attributable to fracking operations.”

University President Glenn Poshard, who grew up in White County, one of the possible fracking areas, said he thinks the decision to use fracking is tough. It would provide jobs for areas that sorely need them, he said, but scientific data shows the process can have bad environmental results.

“I don’t think we should get ourselves in this position of either/or,” he said. “Let’s do the science, let’s take our time; let’s make sure that it’s safe to do this if it’s going to be done.”

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