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Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017 12:07 am

No fracking way

Activists deliver anti-fracking signatures to Rauner

File photo by Patrick Yeagle
Gov. Bruce Rauner introduced a bill today to change how Illinois buys goods and services

 

“What do we want? Clean water! When do we want it? Now!”

So went the chant of a group of demonstrators gathered July 28 in front of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources building.

The Woolsey Operating Company, based in Kansas, is the first to submit a permit application to IDNR to build a high-volume hydraulic fracturing well in Illinois. The proposed well would be located in White County in southern Illinois.

IDNR granted a public comment period regarding the Woolsey well permit application, which, not coincidentally, expired on the day of the protests. National nonprofit organization Food and Water Watch, along with representative of several other environmental advocates including the Sierra Club, gathered in Springfield that day to stage a two-part protest, starting at the governor’s office and moving on to the IDNR building at the state fairgrounds.

“We collected signatures from a diverse group across the state, including people who could potentially be affected by the proposed fracking in southern Illinois,” said Jessica Fujan, Midwest region director of Food and Water Watch. Some 1,400 signatures were turned in to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office at 2:30 p.m. July 28. “We wanted to take advantage of the governor’s emergency session to deliver petitions directly to his office,” said Fujan. “About two dozen of us went – it was very quiet in the Capitol. He had his staff meet us and it was obvious that they were very nervous. There was quite a bit of security for just a small group of petition-deliverers and they seemed very excited to get the encounter over with.”

“It was a jubilant moment,” Fujan said of the next phase, a 4 p.m. demonstration at IDNR. “A lot of people hadn’t seen each other in a long time. We also got a lot of positive responses from people who work there, which was very encouraging.” She said that in the past, Food and Water Watch has had contacts inside IDNR who were sympathetic to their concerns. “I think that is less the case now,” she said.

Rich Whitney of the Illinois Green Party spoke at the rally, focusing on the danger of radiation resulting from fracking, along with concerns about earthquakes. “When fracking takes place in the shale layer, you’re also encountering radium, uranium, radon and other radioactive elements which are brought to the surface,” he said. Whitney also noted that southern Illinois is in the top 10 percent of radioactive shale layer. “Woolsey is required to have strategies for testing, safe containment, safety and disposal of radioactive waste but on the actual application they have a plan for testing but nothing else,” he pointed out, also mentioning that Woolsey’s White County wells will be located near the New Madrid fault, making scientific reports of increased earthquake magnitudes in fracking areas such as the ones in Oklahoma a potential concern for southern Illinois citizens.

While 1,400 petition signatures are nothing to sneeze at, Fujan expressed disappointment that far fewer Illinois citizens were granted status for participation in the hearing scheduled for Aug. 2 (87 comments about the Woolsey permit were delivered to the IDNR that afternoon). “It’s very frustrating that IDNR requires you to have scientific and technical comments regarding the Woolsey application,” she said. “It shouldn’t be that people need to get a Ph.D. in geology to state that they don’t want fracking on the property they own and maintain. I think it’s a little bit anti-democratic to assume individuals need that kind of basis to lodge their opinions.”

In the past, according to Fujan, Food and Water Watch has passed more than 500 local resolutions asking for a ban on fracking. Their standard procedure is to collect petition signatures, then choose a target at either the county or municipal level in order to stop fracking plans on a local level. However, in Illinois things are more difficult. “The only county in the state with home rule authority is Cook County – most counties do not have the power to ban fracking,” she said. “We thought it appropriate to deliver those signatures to the governor demanding justice for those people who want to preserve their property and the environment.”

“We are very concerned down in southern Illinois that IDNR and the powers that be are not listening to the people in southern and central Illinois,” said Tabitha Tripp, another speaker at the rally, representing Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment (SAFE). “We are scared for our public safety and for our health. We are scared for our children and their future. And there’s an obvious answer right above us – a great big sun, which is shining straight into my eyes right now.”

Scott Faingold can be reached at sfaingold@illinoistimes.com.

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