New Coalition to Highlight Strong Support for Fracking in Southeastern Illinois

If shale development is ever allowed to occur in Illinois, a vast majority of it will likely happen in a handful of counties in the southeastern part of the state – a region with a long history in the oil and gas industry matched only by its overwhelming support for high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF).

You’d never guess it based on the media’s coverage of the ongoing HVHF saga in the Land of Lincoln, however.

It seems the most prominent media voices have not only been those opposed to fracking, but those from places with little to no history in the petroleum industry, places such as Bloomington (Illinois Peoples Action) and Chicago (Rising Tide and Food and Water Watch). Some have been from completely out of state (CELDF, Pennsylvania).

Even the one Southern Illinois anti-fracking group, Johnson County-based Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment (S.A.F.E.), is headquartered in an area that experts agree has little to no chance of seeing any significant shale development. It’s also worth noting that group’s most prominent media spokesman, Annette McMichael, only recently moved to Southern Illinois from the Champaign area; the 217 area code listed in the contact info on S.A.F.E.’s website is a dead giveaway.

It all begs the burning question: Why have the people of southeastern Illinois been largely ignored? After all, nobody has a better understanding of a petroleum industry, considering it has put food on their families’ tables since the 1940s and could revive their struggling economy some 70 years later.

Fed up with asking why, a group of those citizens recently decided to do something about it.

The O.IL (Opportunity In Land) coalition recently formed to give collective voice for southeastern Illinois’ overwhelming support for shale development.

The group hopes to demonstrate that support at a trio of upcoming county hall meetings, scheduled for Oct. 14 in Carmi, Oct. 21 in Fairfield and Oct. 28 in McLeansboro. All three are smack dab in the middle of a region that has been anxiously — and impatiently — awaiting a shale boom the past two years while HVHF regulations have been in a state of legislative limbo.

All local supporters of shale development and media members have been invited to attend the 7 p.m. meetings. The meetings will feature a documentary highlighting southeastern Illinois’ rich history in the oil and gas industry and its bright future.

An impressive list of guest speakers includes Illinois Oil and Gas Association Executive Vice President Brad Richards, longtime Marion Mayor Bob Butler, State Rep. David Reis and Fairfield Mayor Chuck Griswold.

In addition to showcasing southeast Illinois’ support for HVHF and giving voice to its citizens, the O.IL coalition has two other primary objectives at these meetings.

First, it wants to educate the public of the many economic benefits of shale development — using North Dakota, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Colorado as primary examples – in addition to informing the public as to how the technology has been used safely in those states.

Second, O.IL wants to encourage attendees to contact the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) and ask the committee members to instruct the IDNR to rework its latest draft of Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory rules to be more workable and follow the intent of the law that passed by an overwhelming, bipartisan majority after unprecedented compromise by all involved more than a year ago.

After 438 days of delay, the IDNR finally released its revised rules in late August. But they have been universally criticized by industry leaders and supporters for overreaching the legislative intent of the law and being completely unworkable. Richards has even predicted that a horizontal high volume hydraulic fracturing permit will never be issued should the rules not be revised.

Ensuring the rules are workable is crucial for White, Wayne and Hamilton counties.  All three were recently ranked in a New York Times list of the “25 Worst Illinois Counties” to live in. A wide spectrum of factors was taken into account to determine the rankings, including unemployment rates and household incomes.

The fact that roughly 160,000 acres have been leased in recent years by oil companies hoping to unlock the New Albany Shale’s potential with horizontal drilling and high volume hydraulic fracturing technologies has helped. Roughly $500 million in lease bonuses have already been paid out to hundreds of landowners.

But the people of southeast Illinois are far from satisfied.  These folks have watched the past two years as the nation’s recent shale booms have taken off in areas that look eerily familiar – established oil-patch country, a description that fits southeast Illinois to a T.

Shale development promises to create hundreds of jobs for a region suffering unemployment rates well above the national average. And there will be plenty of qualified candidates in an area in which thousands are either already working in the industry or have experience in the petroleum business.  Woefully underfunded area schools would also stand to benefit greatly from local tax revenue generating by increased oil production.

Suffice it to say, the citizens of southeastern Illinois are sick and tired of outsiders — many of which are small, radical environmental groups – trying to deny their relatively small corner of the Land of Lincoln its full potential.

The O.IL coalition and this month’s upcoming county board meetings are a testament to that.

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