Driving down a small road in Southeastern Illinois near the Wabash River, we were led to a corn field atop a hill surrounded by trees.
“Down there. That’s where the disposal well was that went bad, and then my well water went bad,” in a frustrated voice, says Steve Combs, resident and property owner of White County, IL. Couple of curse words escape as he explains that disposal wells are where the oil and gas companies dump flow back or processed “water” used in extracting gas and oil. Steve’s water is highly corrosive, showing me the copper tubing from his house pitted with holes, and then handed me some bottled water to rinse off my hands, “If you don’t rinse, after a while, you’ll just start to itch.” He contacted Office of Mines and Minerals (OMM) but his concerns went no where.
This was my first exposure to an oil field, the abhorrent practices of extracting fossil fuels and the subsequent trade off of pollution for profit. Horrible fumes from flares, open unlined pits full of oily liquid, sterilized land where brine spills have occurred and once potable water supplies tainted with we don’t know what. It’s too expensive to have Steve’s water tested for NORM (normally occurring radioactive material) or fracking chemicals, like Benzene, Xylene and Toluene. What once came out of his faucet free of charge from a shallow aquifer, he nows has drive into town and pay for. He has no recourse and there no victims rights with the oil and gas industry in Illinois if you do not have proof your water was potable before. The entire area of Crossville, IL lost their pubic water supply a couple of decades ago due to careless oil and gas practices and now has a water quality score of 20 out of 100. Water quality index is determined on 100-point scale that summarizes results from a total of nine different measurements.
Standing near the old, municipal water pump house, with rusted stairs and white flaking paint, I stare, in disbelief, across the field to several conventional oil pumps, bouncing up and down in robotic rhythmic prayer, I just shook my head. The catwalk once led to tanks of fresh water, abandoned, it leads into a tangled mess of honeysuckle. How do we even began to right the wrongs?
When I first heard about high volume, hydraulic fracturing coming to southern Illinois and the defensive industry statement repeatedly state “we’ve been doing it for sixty years in Illinois and there has been no pollution.” High volume, hydraulic “fracking” is not conventional fracking; these are two very different critters. What they’ve been doing in south eastern Illinois is drilling vertical wells and stimulating with slick water or a brine solution. Industry has not done large scale high volume, mile long horizontally drilling in Illinois. What they’ve done around Crossville, is called conventional oil and gas drilling, low to medium volume, which is less than 300,000 in total to initiate or propagate fractures in a geologic formation. If oil and gas industry has been fracking, it was done unlawfully, without oversight or rules.
Steve tried numerous times to get help with his water and was passed off from agency to agency. He is a victim of state practices that protect companies and corporations, but ignore citizens and basic human rights to clear water and air. I took the complaint all the way to the Governors office in Chicago with high hope our leading state elected official would follow through and test Steve’s water, fine who was responsible and replace Steve’s well water, with municipal water, free of charge, but no.
The Governors office handed the complaint to Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) who handed it to Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) who then passed off Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and back to OMM. Big circle jerk. Instead of fixing Steve’s well, the oil company installed a no trespassing sign, fixed and replaced gauges on a different disposal well head that was shown leaking in a photograph we submitted to the Governors aid. No one stopped by Steve’s house, no one even called him. First lessons in bureaucracy and politics, favors and corruption.
As Illinois legislators create 2013’s budget based on income from hydraulic fracking, it gives me no hope of sensibility in Springfield that a moratorium will pass in lame duck session. Asking our state government to seriously look at all the risks, the health affects, the cost to small municipalities bearing the brunt of the burden in ways of social services, emergency response personnel and road repair before jumping into a ponzi scheme is a reasonable request. The oil and gas isn’t going to go anywhere, the market has bottomed out do to excess supply, why risk our healthy environment for a short boom? For nearly one hundred years, southern Illinois has been dealing with fossil fuel boom bust extraction economies, one would think we would get smart and plan beyond that which leaves our communities devastated.
Present day Crossville is nothing more than a small one pump gas station, on a vintage main street with several boarded up storefronts, a blinking four way stop, a weekend barbecue stand on a vacant lot and several gravel lots with used pump jacks parts, steel pipes, and a coin operated municipal water service station with water piped in from a nearby town. I looked at my daughter as we drove through the hopeless town, “If fracking is so awesome for small communities in southern Illinois, then why is this one withering up and dying?”
Only fools would trade water for oil, but then that’s what our elected officials have set out to do without answering the public’s questions or concerns, putting profit before people and risking the future our children and of the environment.
West Virginia reported that since 2008 oil and gas employment has risen not by tens of thousands or even by 1,000. Just 916 jobs have been added — less than 10 percent growth in four years. And the severance tax that was expected to produce tens of millions of dollars in new revenue has grown not at all. Despite the huge rise in production, severance taxes in 2012 are no greater than they were in 2008.(1)
If problems in other states are any indication of what we can expect for Southern IL then it is safe to say that our state officials are not interested in sustainable economics, nor researching long term the costs of hydraulic fracturing. The minuscule tax revenue won’t go where its intended: conservation and state parks.
When the industry says they will bring jobs, don’t think they will hire the local farmers; they bring their workers with them. Studies show that each well drilled creates less than 2 jobs.(2) However, if a good job includes waitressing or motel housekeeping near frack sites, well then, guess we’ve got it made.
Whether it’s the lost rights of a surface and property owners to protect investments like homes, water sources, family, livestock, farmlands, or the right to reasonable compensation for loss of any of the above, or the blatant disregard for the state constitution which insures our duty to protect our environment against any party or government for this and future generations; our legislators are woefully negligent. It’s a bad idea jumping into an environmentally devastating, resource depleting industry with indeterminable costs long after the economic benefits have disappeared without having established protections for it’s citizens first. We have no say in what happens to our communities.
Southern Illinoisans concerned about the environment and our future keep asking questions and we are not getting answers from those who have been elected to protect our citizens and the environment. The Governor refuses to meet with us. Clean water and air is not a liberal request, it is a basic human right.
We have no idea about the amount of radioactivity this shale contains. Brief exploration leads to more questions. New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation analyzed 13 samples of wastewater brought thousands of feet to the surface from drilling and found that they contain levels of radium 226, a derivative of uranium, as high as 267 times the limit safe for discharge into the environment and thousands of times the limit safe for people to drink.(3) Asking the right questions now with regards to radioactive shale and the waste created from drilling for fossil fuels may save us decades of trouble later.
After a summer of drought, water is by far a precious commodity to me and those nearby, whose only source of water is the artesian well behind the house. I don’t think its fair to risk water supplies for corporate profit and short term solutions to a growing energy problem of over consumption. Asking for environmental impact statements of water withdrawals and questioning disposal methods of toxic water is not radical, it’s responsible.
The hydro-fracking law has limited required disclosure of chemicals, no local right to ban in unincorporated areas, only medical necessity for chemical disclosure and only to medical personnel, pathetic set backs with regard to schools and healthcare facilities, financial loopholes, proprietary confidentiality for two years regarding all chemicals and well completion, no regulation regarding water use…the list of absurdities is endless.
Yet the gas and oil companies cried foul at attempts for a moratorium, until public health, safety and science could be determined. Especially after all the data linking increased seismicity in fault zones to fracking and injection wells. They labeled us as environmental tree hugging extremist, anti-American, terrorist and *gasp* liberal. Is it liberal to think that 20 or 30 years down the road I would expect my children to come home and drink out the tap without having any fear of what might be in our water? Is it idealistic to think that air should breathable without non-methane hydrocarbons produced as a bi-product of fracking?
Air emissions and pollution studies near fracking sites recently released stated, “the health effects of the non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHCs) near hydrofracking sites revealed that many had multiple health effects, including 30 that affect the endocrine system, which is susceptible to chemical impacts at very low concentrations, far less than government safety standards.”(4) According to the Center for Disease, Southern Illinois has some of the nations worst respiratory disease rates of tuberculosis, lung cancer, Pneumonia, Asthma, Pneumoconiosis, Black Lung and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary disease and Pulmonary Fibrosis, to which I lost my grandfather.(5) Suffocation is a horrible death. Can the citizens of Illinois be assured that measures have been taken to keep air-born pollutants from harming our children?
In addition, do small towns in Southern Illinois currently have room in their budget for extra personnel for the influx of outsider workers who will come and wreak havoc with sex trafficking, drinking and drugs? In Bradford County, Pennsylvania’s most heavily drilled county in the 3-year-old rush to tap the Marcellus Shale, the nation’s largest-known natural gas reservoir, the stream of men from Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and elsewhere has been accompanied by increases in arrests, traffic violations, protection-from-abuse orders and warrants issued for people who don’t show up in court report law enforcement officials.(6)
If I had poisoned my neighbors well with pesticides or dumped used oil and diesel fuels into the nearby creek which feeds into Cypress Wildlife Refuge, I’d been looking at fines, bankruptcy and federal prison. However, we are turning our heads, looking the other way with fracking companies and calling it “patriotic duty, national security and sacrifice.” If terrorists poisoned your well water, you’d be outraged.
Is it Un-American to ask for a statewide public vote on that which not only threatens the duty of each person to provide and maintain a healthful environment now but also the duty of future generations? Or at the very least, grant and protect the authority to counties who resolve to ban the process of fracking and uphold Article XI of our constitution.
It is inconceivable to believe that pollution would contain itself. Water and air pollution don’t abide by property lines. Radioactive dust won’t discriminate between rich children or welfare recipients. Frack rash, neurotoxins and endocrine cancer don’t look to see what political lines you stood in or what church you attend. If contamination could be completely contained to one property, then I suppose a person could make the argument that it is an individual choice of the landowner whether he or she wishes to sacrifice the land or water in this way. The notion of a state or for-profit-companies assuming the right to sacrifice someone else’s land, water, and air in order to transport oil and gas to the global market, is simply non-democratic. Rather, quite fascists, don’t you think?
The ramifications of this industrial process have the potential to devastate and debilitate our small communities, like Crossville. However fanatical, it only seems just and democratic to ban hydraulic fracturing for shale gas until a full and comprehensive independent study of the risk and benefits of fracking is complete.
Our elected officials took an oath to honor the “law of the land, the Illinois State constitution” as Mr. Miller has so eloquently stated. I humbly ask our officials to take a stand to protect our environment under Article XI which declares: “The public policy of the State and the duty of each person is to provide and maintain a healthful environment for the benefit of this and future generations.” New York and Maryland officials have stepped up, will ours?
Might we be reminded that when the government fails Illinois citizens, in diligence, Article XI, Section 2 states, “Each person has the right to a healthful environment. Each person may enforce this right against any party, governmental or private.”
Will we be armed with pitchforks and the constitutional right to protect our future? What excuses will we tell our children if fracking does to us what it has done to so many other small communities, pollute the water, taint our air, sicken our children, the land and kill our livestock. What do we tell them when there is no water to drink?