Quick Hit Michael Sandler Wednesday August 1st, 2012, 12:50pm

Don’t Frack With Us: SAFE Group Rallies Against Hydraulic Fracturing In Illinois

On Monday afternoon, a group of protestors outside the James R. Thompson Center called for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in southern Illinois.

At the rally, Southern Illinoisians Against Fracturing our Environment (SAFE) protested the practice of hydraulic fracturing. Known as fracking for short, the oil and gas drilling technique injects a mix of water, sand, and chemicals into the ground to create cracks in deep rock layers. The cracks release natural gas. (Read PI’s previous reporting on fracking here.)

Proponents of fracking say it will supply America with its own source of natural gas, but SAFE contends the process contaminates drinking water and pollutes farmland. The group doesn’t believe enough information has been gathered on the effect fracking has on the environment, and its members met with one of Gov. Pat Quinn’s representatives before the rally.

According to SAFE legal committee coordinator Chuck Paprocki, who owns a 100-acre farm in Anna, Ill., the group presented the Quinn representative with a memorandum that laid out how the governor could legally ban the issuance of fracking permits to gas and oil companies in the state.

“He has authority over the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and IDNR (Illinois Department of Natural Resources), and they’re responsible for banning permits,” Paprocki told Progress Illinois after the rally. “He has the authority to cut through all the bureaucracy.”

Bureaucracy stopped one SAFE protestor from talking to her local government about the fracking issue. Tabitha Tripp, who is the fourth-generation owner of her family’s farm in Anna, Ill., first went to the Union County board to voice her concerns about fracking. She said the board told her they had no authority to stop fracking, and that she should talk to the City of Anna. Tripp was then told the city has no governance over the county and she would need to talk to her state representatives, but they were too busy. Tripp was in the meeting with Quinn’s representative. “He told us the governor is concerned about fracking, but he has no authority to stop it,” she said.     

In a statement released to Progress Illinois, a Quinn spokesman said, “Governor Quinn is committed to protecting the state’s natural resources, and we are taking a comprehensive look at the practice and potential impacts on the environment.  The administration will work with the state legislature to address this issue.”

Currently, Illinois has one fracking bill that is making its way through state legislature. SB3280, which passed a Senate vote by a 54-0 margin in April and awaits a House vote in the fall, calls for companies to disclose the chemical formula of their fracking fluid to the IDNR. The bill also establishes requirements for the disposal of wastewater and requires testing of the stability of the cement casings that protect groundwater during fracking.

One of the bill’s sponsors, State Rep. Daniel Biss (D-Skokie), agreed that some regulation is needed. Biss said fracking is a very serious issue, and a potentially significant and profitable activity that there isn’t a lot of information about. “It seems to be fairly obvious that we should be extremely cautious before we rush headlong into doing it,” said Biss.

But one member of the Illinois oil and gas industry doesn’t believe fracking in Illinois is a big deal. John Bassett, who is in technical sales at Franklin Well Services in Lawrenceville, Ill., said fracking jobs on the East Coast are much bigger and use more water than what is planned for Illinois. According to Bassett, a big job in Illinois might use 8,000 to 9,000 barrels of water; whereas out east, they pump a million or two million barrels of water. He also said well operators already have to disclose what kind of cement they use to plug the hole, and the kinds of chemicals that are pumped into the wells.

But Paprocki is undeterred. “The gas industry is a world power, and not many people stand in their way. Hopefully we can get a moratorium in place so people can look at things more seriously,” he said.

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