Monday, November 20, 2017

County Commissioners: more time needed to debate fracking

The Johnson County commissioners said more time was needed to debate their position on a proposal to sign a letter of support in asking the state of Illinois to place a two-year moratorium on the process of hydraulic fracturing.

Speaking at the County Commissioner’s meeting Monday,  commissioner Phil Stewart said he did not support a two-year moratorium as his discussions with a representative from Woolsey Energy Corporation suggested Johnson County could see the employment of up to 35 people.

“They said it would take about 75 workers per well; they would probably have 35 and they would hire 35 from the county,” Stewart said, adding that Freedom Transport, an Illinois based trucking business would likely handle the trucking.  “It would more or less be local, the most, and looks to me like [it would] help the community.”

Stewart said Johnson County might only see up to one well put into place.

Chairman Jeff Mears said the reason he supports the idea of moratorium is because of his concerns over the impact the process will have on county roads and the area’s water supply.

“I would like to get things in writing,” Mears said of having available legal action to protect Johnson County roads.  “We all know, in this room, our roads have problems anyway [that] we can’t afford to fix.”

Mears said a slow down would allow the county to properly put in place regulations on what is currently an unregulated practice.

“Right now it is an unregulated business, from what I understand,” Mears said, adding, “I don’t like that.”

A graphic from the Illinois Fracking Study performed by Dr. David G. Loomis, Professor of Economics at Illinois State University and Director of the Center for Renewable Energy.
A graphic from the Illinois Fracking Study performed by Dr. David G. Loomis, Professor of Economics at Illinois State University
and Director of the Center for Renewable Energy.

The regulation of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking and uses a mixture of water, sand and chemicals pumped into the ground to crack rock formations and release oil and natural gas, has been under debate in Illinois for several years.

The Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act, introduced in February by state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, has found support on both sides of the argument due to its implementation of regulations currently unavailable to the state.  Two other bills on fracking were also introduced this year with both seeking a moratorium on the practice until further scientific studies are completed.

“The movement for a moratorium ‘has been out there for a long time,’” the Pantagraph.com quoted Bradley saying in a March 21 article. “Fracking could occur in Illinois currently. There is nothing to stop it. If we don’t get regulations in place soon to make sure that our communities, our drinking water and our environment are protected, I think that we are making a mistake.”

Commissioner Ernie Henshaw said that “what they’re calling regulations, whether you agree with them or not, [have] been labeled as the toughest regulations in the country.”  Henshaw said what bothers him though is that the state of Illinois is notorious in its ability to regulate anything, which is why he favors local government stepping up and putting its own regulations in place if possible.

“If we put a moratorium in place, it’s no more to me than what we’ve done in the past for a support letter,” Henshaw said. “Because the state is going to do what the state is going to do and we’re going to live with it.”

Henshaw said he is interested in the economic side of favoring fracking and that if Johnson County can put people to work then he is all for it.  Henshaw spoke about other areas of the country where bonds were required before a well went up to ensure damages were recovered.

Speaking at the meeting was Johnson County resident and landowner Dr. Billy Fairless who said a moratorium was unnecessary and would amount to robbing him of his opportunity to pursue the extraction of gas and oil on his property.  Fairless said that he retired from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after a career of 27 years and in his position he never witnessed any problems with fracking.

“I have never heard of a problem with fracking in Western Kentucky, Southern Indiana, Southern Illinois and I would have known because I was the guy who collected the scientific data to enforce it if there was a problem,” Fairless said, adding that if damages were to occur that ample opportunity was available to recover it.  “It’s easy to recover damages if somebody tears up your property.”

The commissioners further debated the issue of signing a letter in support of a moratorium speaking of how such a policy would be possible and the requirements of fair practice.  Roads already have weight and seasonal limits in place by both state and federal laws and the county could not enact regulations for a specific industry.

There were no discussions on a proposed public forum the commissioners agreed to at a March 25 meeting and the commissioners said after the meeting Monday that more time was required before they would be willing to act on signing a letter of support for a moratorium.

“We might support something for less time, [perhaps] six months or year,” Henshaw said, adding that from a county standpoint their focus was the protection of the infrastructure.

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