Few Actual ‘Downstate’ Residents Involved in Recent Illinois Fracking Poll

A recent Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll and press release declared Illinoisans are “Wary of Fracking.” But a closer look reveals there are couple factors Illinoisans might want to consider before swallowing the results whole.

First of all, Paul Simon Public Policy Institute Director David Yepson told EID only “30 or so” of the 1,000 Illinois registered voters interviewed for the poll reside in Illinois’ 18 southernmost counties. His reasoning makes sense: most Illinoisans live in the northern and central parts of the state. In fact, just 4 percent of Illinois’ nearly 12.9 million residents live in the southernmost 18 counties.

However, it is in a handful of Illinois’ southernmost 18 counties that shale development is expected to occur. So essentially, the people who own and live on the land where fracking would take place were barely represented. And basically, people from hundreds of miles from where shale development would occur drove the results.

Interestingly, many of those participants – even those from such northern Illinois communities such as Rockford, Moline and Peoria – were categorized as “downstate” residents. In fact, anybody from outside of Chicagoland, which includes Cook and surrounding counties, was considered “downstate” for the purposes of this poll. So the results categorized as “downstate” were misleading, to say the least.

Still, the poll does show stronger support for fracking “downstate,” than in the Chicagoland area, where a majority of participants indicated they oppose fracking. “Downstate” participants support fracking at a 38.3 percent clip, according to the poll, while 41.3 percent oppose it. Those figures are within the 3 percentage-point margin of error and are in line with the national averages.  Visiting professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute John Jackson noted the poll’s data indicated surprising “downstate” support of fracking for economic benefits.


“It is interesting to note that the highest level of support for fracking is downstate, where it is     likely to take place and have whatever economic benefit and environmental damage it may hold.”   

It is clear that if more people from southeastern Illinois – particularly in counties such as Wayne, White and Hamilton – were involved in the poll, and if those from northern Illinois had been properly categorized, the data indicating support would have been even stronger.

More than 1,000 southeastern Illinois residents attended a series of three O.IL (Opportunity In Land) county board meetings in October, with only a handful of fracking opponents choosing to attend. This would seem relevant considering this is the area where fracking would likely to occur, as fact explained by Illinois Geological Survey geologist Joan Crockett in a recent email to EID:

“… The main focus for oil exploration in the (New Albany) shale is thought to be in the area north of the (Shawnee National) forest boundaries, where the shale is deeply buried. The areas of Saline, Hamilton, Wayne, Gallatin, White, Edwards and Wabash counties are probably considered of the highest potential for exploration in the New Albany Shale.”

One area that shale development definitely won’t take place is Chicago, where the survey indicates most of Illinois’ opposition to fracking originates. There are no active oil and gas wells in Chicagoland, mind you. And it’s ironic that so many Chicagoans oppose shale development considering they are reaping the economic and environmental benefits of their mayor’s pro-shale development policy of increasing natural gas generated electricity.

True downstate Illinois residents are used to being misrepresented or not represented at all. Southern Illinoisans often joke about how Chicagoans consider anything south of Interstate 80, highlighted in red here, as “downstate.” A poll conducted by an organization based at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and classifies “downstate” as areas actually north of I-80 takes things to a whole other level, however, and is misleading on more ways than one.

That said, a poll showing the opinions of folks in southeastern Illinois – who live where fracking will actually occur – is long overdue.

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