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Let’s take a realistic look at fracking

August 03, 2012 5:00 am

Just for a moment, let’s forget the deplorable environmental record of the extraction industries.

Forgetting the scars inflicted on Earth by strip mining and mountain-top mining, let’s take the industry at its word and work on the assumption that fracking is a benign process.

Let’s take the industry at its word that the horizontal fracking process used today is no different than the vertical approach used previously. Let’s assume the industry is telling the truth when it says the fracking process does not lead to contamination of aquifers and surface water.

Now, let’s take a quick survey of Southern Illinois.

Everywhere I look, corn is shriveling up in the fields. Farm ponds and borrow pits are caked and dried. Rivers and streams have been reduced to trickles. Many trees have already lost leaves because of the drought. Other trees are brown, laden with dried foliage that shouldn’t appear until October or November.

One thing the industry doesn’t deny is the fracking process consumes millions of gallons of water. Millions of gallons of water, mixed with the frackers’ toxic chemical cocktail and sand are forced into shale layers at high pressure to release natural gas.

And, when we’re talking about millions of gallons of water, we’re not talking in aggregate. We’re talking per drilling site.

Since land companies are buying up leases throughout Southern Illinois, let’s make an incredibly conservative estimate, of 1,000 wells. If each of those wells took “just” a million gallons of water to operate, that would represent a billion gallons.

According to the Ohio Environmental Council, the reality is that 4-7 million gallons of water are used each time a well is fracked. So, where does that water come from? Are aquifers sucked dry? Do our streams and lakes take the hit?

In this summer of extreme drought, we are reminded just what a precious commodity water is.

Let’s take time for one more hypothetical.

If fracking was commonly used throughout Southern Illinois, what are the chances the wells would shut down during drought conditions?

That’s a question that can’t be answered definitively. It is, in fact, a hypothetical. However, I’m guessing that almighty dollar would have the last word.

Citizens of Southern Illinois are concerned about fracking coming to the region … with good reason. It was encouraging to see the public outcry at the forum held in Williamson County last weekend.

It appears as if it will take still another grass roots movement to protect the environment. Predictably, political leaders seem to be taking the short-sighted view. Votes follow promises of jobs and employment.

By the way, now is the time to recall the extraction industry’s environmental record.

Hopefully, the scorched earth we are experiencing this summer will have a positive effect. Maybe it will cause politicians and laymen alike to view fracking in a new light.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at, or call 618-351-5088.

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