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This editorial ran in the Southern Illinoisan, November 13,2012.

My family often discussed politics at the dinner table. When we got too rowdy, my grandmother would just say: “Whatchya gonna do when the well runs dry?”

That always brought us back down to earth.  Because, conservative or liberal, clean water is our most precious resource.  Not oil.  Not natural gas.  Water.


Southern Illinois is in the midst of a long-term drought.  But Big Oil has come to town, flashing money, and telling big lies about a new method for extracting natural gas from shale, known as horizontal hydraulic fracturing – “fracking” for short.

The first horizontal fracking well was sunk in the Marcellus shale region of Pennsylvania in 2002.  Since then, there has been a gold rush to open up new wells.  That rush is now coming to Southern Illinois.

Frackers begin by digging a vertical hole down to the shale layer, anywhere from 4000 to 10,000 feet.  There is nothing new in drilling vertically.  But, about ten years ago, the industry learned how to turn the corner and drill horizontally for as much as a mile-and-a-half through the shale.  This made it possible for the first time to inject huge volumes of water at high pressure to fracture (or perforate) the shale.

To make the water slick enough for fracking, the industry adds a toxic brew of chemicals.  Then, they add large quantities of sand to prop open the myriad  cracks in the shale, making it sponge-like, and enabling the methane gas to flow out.

Fracking is a reckless and dangerous new technology.  One of its many problems is the staggering amount of water that will have to be used.  Big Oil does not say how much.  But we can make a rough estimate of what it would take to frack the entire New Albany shale region of Southern Illinois.

The industry says it will take 1 to 5 million gallons of water for each frack.  Call it 3 million gallons.  The industry says they can perform up to 18 fracks per well.  Call it 10 fracks.  That means 30 million gallons of water will be required for just one well.

In the Marcellus shale region in Pennsylvania, the industry has sunk 16 wells per square mile.  That makes 480 million gallons – or roughly 500 million – per square mile.

There are more than 2000 square miles in the New Albany shale region of Southern Illinois.  To frack the entire region will therefore require more than one trillion gallons of water.


Under current technology, the industry cannot use river water to frack the shale, because it is too dirty.  So, they will have to use our fresh, clean drinking water.

One trillion gallons of water will empty Rend Lake 18 times, Crab Orchard 50 times, Lake of Egypt 80 times, Cedar Lake 140 times.  We cannot afford that much water.


When the frack “water” comes back up, it is not water anymore.  The industry politely calls it “brine”, because it is eight times saltier than the Dead Sea.  It is also saturated with heavy metals, and radioactive isotopes, such as barium, strontium, and radium, which occur “naturally” in the shale.  To that, the oil companies add their toxic brew of chemicals.

The result is hazardous waste, not water.  It cannot be used again.  How is Southern Illinois going to dispose of one trillion gallons of hazardous waste?  The industry has no workable plan.


That is why we at SAFE – Southern Illinoisans Against Fracking our Environment – are calling for a Moratorium on fracking, until such time as the industry can ensure that our water will  remain safe.

Right now, the industry is busy in Springfield negotiating a sweetheart  bill which will not protect our water.  We need to tell the legislature to Slow Down.  Some things, if you break them, you can go back and fix them.  But if we poison our water supply, we cannot fix it.

We are not alone in seeking a moratorium.  Just last month, the state of New York issued a moratorium on fracking.  Several whole countries in Europe have done so as well.

Join SAFE in calling for a two-year Moratorium in Illinois.   Call and write your State Legislators.  Tell them: Water for oil is a fool’s trade.

Richard Fedder 144 Pineview Rd. Carbondale, IL  62901 618-201-5834

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