Quick Hit Ashlee Rezin Thursday May 23rd, 2013, 7:17pm

Environmental Activists Demand A Fracking Moratorium, Stage Sit-In At Quinn's Office (UPDATED)

Environmental activists are ramping up advocacy efforts against hydraulic fracturing, commonly called “fracking”. Meanwhile, the Illinois House Executive Committee passed a regulatory compromise bill Tuesday and the full chamber is expected to take up the legislation any day now.

The oil and gas drilling technology, according to the bill’s opponents, is unsafe and damages the environment. But as the bill makes its way through the Illinois General Assembly, drilling companies have already leased land in Southern Illinois — reportedly about half a million acres around the New Albany Shale rock formation, according to the Star-Telegram.

“Fracking is not safe, it destroys communities; it endangers our water supply; it is not safe for the workers; and it is not a bridge fuel,” said Melody Lamar, a member of Illinois People’s Action.  “I’m so sickened by what I’ve seen from our legislators.”

Members from Illinois People’s Action, along with volunteers from Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment, Rising Tide Chicago and Occupy Springfield, have staged an ongoing sit-in outside Gov. Pat Quinn’s office since Tuesday.

Two people have been arrested for refusing to leave Quinn’s doorway, according to witnesses. The group sat down Tuesday following the committee vote, and has since refused to budge during the capitol’s business hours. The sit-in will continue to Friday. A massive noon rally is also scheduled for Friday.

“In two to three years, when fracking is full blown in the state, and people are getting sick and water is contaminated, legislators can’t say they didn’t know it was going to be this bad; they’ve been warned,” Lamar, who has participated in the protest every day, said. “They will have blood on their hands.”

Although Quinn has yet to address the demonstrators, the group is calling on the governor to meet with residents of southern Illinois, who will likely be the individuals most heavily impacted by fracking. They are also advocating for support of a moratorium on the drilling until further research has been done on the effects of fracking.  

“We’re not being heard by the governor,” said Josh Trost, a member of Rising Tide Chicago, who has also participated in the sit-in. Trost said the group has dedicated more than 15 hours to the sit-in; he plans to attend Friday’s rally and sit-in, as well.

Fracking releases Earth’s natural gas by injecting a high-pressure mixture of water, sand or gravel, and chemicals into the ground to create cracks in deep rock layers.

Illinois’ compromise bill, SB 1715, attempts to manage the drilling’s environmental impact through “strong” regulatory provisions. Under the bill, companies are prohibited from drilling within 500 feet from schools and 300 feet from rivers; are required to test water before and after drilling; must publicly disclose fracking chemicals; and are held liable if water is contaminated. Also, companies must obtain a permit from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) before high-volume horizontal drilling takes place under the bill's provisions.

The bill, sponsored by State Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion), was passed in committee by a unanimous vote and advanced to the full House, where it was expected to receive a vote Thursday. The bill was passed in the Illinois Senate in April.

The bill is being promoted as a job creator and source of revenue for Illinois, which is in dire fiscal straits. Quinn praised the House committee members for passing the legislation.

“Many months ago I directed my staff to bring together a coalition of legislators, labor, industry and advocates to develop a hydraulic fracturing bill that would set a new national standard for environmental protection and job creation potential,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

Meanwhile, legislation that would put a two-year moratorium on fracking in Illinois has been stalled in Springfield. Sponsored by State Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago), SB 1418 was introduced in March, but still awaits committee assignment. Companion legislation, HB 3086, sponsored by State Rep. Deborah Mell (D-Chicago), was referred to the Rules Committee in April. Both bills recommend the establishment of a Hydraulic Fracturing Task Force to “conduct a thorough review of the regulation of hydraulic fracturing operations.”

According to Sandra Steingraber, an Illinois-native, Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Ithaca College and founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking, there’s no evidence fracking can be done safely. Steingraber testified against the legislation during Tuesday’s committee hearing.

“There is no science behind the regulations,” she said, adding that well casings often leak as they age, methane migrates through underground faults, benzene and formaldehyde rises from boreholes, and radioactive wastewater is difficult, “if not impossible,” to store.

She also said, thanks to budget cuts at both the state and federal levels, regulatory agencies are “cut to the bone” and likely do not have the capacity to enforce protocols.

“Fracking uses our land as its factory floor,” she said.

Also present during Tuesday’s committee hearing was Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Josh Fox. Fox’s second anti-fracking film, Gasland II, was screened in Normal, IL earlier this week.

During his testimony, Fox asked how many legislators had visited a fracking site. According to the Chicago Tribune, none raised their hands.

Lamar called legislators “eagerness” to support fracking legislation “appalling.”

“The Illinois General Assembly is putting profits over people,” she said. “I’m sure there are [legislators] out there that think they’re doing right by Illinoisans by providing temporary and dangerous jobs, but they’re not looking at the big picture.”

Lamar said she met with State Rep. Raymond Poe (R-Springfield) in March. Lamar says he admitted to knowing only what drilling companies have informed him of fracking. Poe does not serve on the House Executive Committee, and thus has not yet voted on the bill.

Meanwhile, a coalition of 67 groups sent a letter to the national Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Wednesday, criticizing the group’s support of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD).

Fred Krupp, executive director for EDF, sits on the CSSD board of directors.

Signers on the letter included the Civil Society Institute, Executive Director for Greenpeace Phil Radford, Executive Director for Earthworks Jenniffer Krill, and filmmaker Fox.

“These are fossil fuels, and their extraction and consumption will inevitably degrade our environment and contribute to climate change. Hydraulic fracturing, the method used to extract them, will permanently remove huge quantities of water from the hydrological cycle, pollute the air, contaminate drinking water, and release high levels of methane into the atmosphere,” the letter reads.

“It should be eminently clear to everyone that an economy based on fossil fuels is unsustainable.”

UPDATE 1 (May 28, 11:43 a.m.): Three individuals were arrested Thursday night following the daylong sit-in. Melody Lamar, a member of Illinois People’s Action, Josh Trost, a member of Rising Tide Chicago, and a third protester were charged with criminal trespassing. After posting a $125 bond, the individuals were released later that evening.

Images: AP

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Hello Ashlee. Thanks for the ongoing attention to this issue. I wanted to point out that my quote in the 3rd paragraph should read "a bridge fuel", NOT an enriched fuel. Meaning, natural gas from fracking is not a suitable "gap fuel" to bridge crude and coal until our renewables are in full swing. ~thanks, mel lamar~

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