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Winkeler: I present to you exhibit A in the case against fracking


CORRECTS STATE TO W.VA. INSTEAD OF VA. – A worker moves a drilling machine around storage tanks at Freedom Industries storage facility in Charleston, W.Va., Monday, Jan. 13, 2014. The ban on tap water for parts of West Virginia was lifted on Monday, ending a crisis for a fraction of the 300,000 people who were told not to drink, wash or cook with water after a chemical spill tainted the water supply. Gov. Earl Tomblin made the announcement at a news conference, five days after people were told to use the water only to flush their toilets. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

7 hours ago  •  By Les Winkeler

Silver, gold, platinum, water — what is the most valuable commodity?

If you asked the people of West Virginia earlier this week, they probably would have said water was worth its weight in gold.

About 300,000 West Virginians were left without potable water as the result of a chemical spill in the Elk River.

An agent used to clean coal, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, leaked into the river. For four or five days, the water was unsuitable for drinking, cooking or even bathing.

Schools were closed. Restaurants were closed. There were news reports of people driving 40 miles to shower.

The world stops when you don’t have water.

That is precisely what frightens me about fracking coming to Southern Illinois.

No, the West Virginia incident had nothing to do with drilling, or even mining, but it vividly illustrates what happens when municipal water supplies are fouled.

About 65 percent of Southern Illinoisans are served by ground water sources. If there were a major accident, it could cripple the region, probably for much longer than four or five days.

In West Virginia, residents simply had to wait until the river flushed and diluted the chemical. We won’t have that luxury if chemicals from the fracking process infiltrate our aquifer or if there are major methane migrations.

How long can a restaurant stay in business without water?

How long can a hotel stay open without showers?

How do schools operate without water?

Most importantly, how long can a town survive without schools or local business?

Fracking has been sold to the region as an economic boom.

We’ve been told landowners stand to become millionaires. We’ve been told high-paying jobs will be plentiful.

What we haven’t been told, and what most people probably haven’t contemplated is, how many people could be ruined if an accident occurs.

The oil companies don’t like to talk about the possibility of accidents. In fact, they do everything they can to keep mishaps under wraps. When an accident does occur, the oil companies tend to move quickly, reaching out of court settlements with the aggrieved parties, settlements that include non-disclosure clauses.

But, accidents do occur.

And, what happens to the citizens of a town if its water supply is tainted?

How many people build their retirement around a small business and their home? How many people face financial ruin if their businesses and homes suddenly become worthless? Who is going to shop, or who is going to buy property in a city with no water supply?

Will this doomsday scenario come to fruition?

I have no way of knowing.

However, I do know that many of us living in the region have a huge stake in this gamble, yet, we aren’t holding any of the cards.

It’s a terrifying, not to mention unfair, situation.

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

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