The double dangers of fracking in Illinois

November 18, 2012

The real cost of fracking in Illinois

It’s been too long since Josh Mogerman from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) was on the show. So I took note when I received a couple of emails from him this week about important environmental issues. One was about how fourteen major commercial buildings, with a combined 14 million square feet of space, are working with the City of Chicago to cut their energy needs by 20% over the next five years through energy efficiency improvements. We’ll get to that in a moment.

But let’s start with something that I’ve been covering for almost a year now–the attempt to place an open pit frac sand mine next to the eastern entrance of Starved Rock State Park, and the larger issue of how that sand is used and how vast swaths of land in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa are being turned into open pit scars.

Many concerned citizens are making their voices heard in an attempt to prevent the travesty at Starved Rock from being played out. In fact, the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, which has been one of the staunchest defenders of the park, just sent out this message:

Illinois EPA is currently proposing the issuance of a General National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, which would authorize up to 5.1 million gallons of frac sand mine discharge per day into Horseshoe Creek, a tributary of the Illinois River flowing through the park.

The deadline for public input ends this Sunday, November 18, 2012 .

Act Now! Tell Illinois EPA a general permit is not good enough for our premier state park!

Tell Illinois EPA to instead require a site-specific Individual NPDES permit, which regulates discharge effluents more strictly. The individual permit also allows citizens to request a public hearing before the mine can move forward, a critical step in the review process for this proposed mine that has unfortunately had very limited opportunities for public input.

As you can see, you need to make your voice heard TODAY!

But while the focus has been specifically on Starved Rock, there’s a larger picture that involves many landowners in LaSalle County, who find their rights being trampled on by their elected and non-elected representatives. According to LaSalle County resident Farley Andrews, Mississippi Sand LLC’s decision to dig next to Starved Rock State Park was just one of a series of moves:

After that the Village of Utica (directly across the Illinois River from Starved Rock Park) annexed land to the east, along Route 6, and west of Ottawa, on the north side of the river, to expedite sale and mining of this parcel of land by ILLINOIS SAND CO. (another transnational corporation). In much the same ways as the La Salle County Board, Utica Village Council voted against the advise of its own advisory committee to approve annexation and sale of the Route 6 parcel of land for mining. Many residents living adjacent, and across from the mine [see photo on left] have for the past year been engaged in a struggle to save their homes. Many on these residential properties were not included in the annexation of the property to be mined, so they have little recourse through the Village of Utica, but they are absolutely effected, as anyone can see from photos. Noise is terrible, trucks and mine traffic is dangerous, and the mine eventually intends to be running on a 24-7 schedule. Most all adjacent home owners have now posted their properties, “FOR SALE BY OWNERS”. Home owners and this issue desperately need public attention…

Two of those home owners are Phil and Diane Gassman, and they are also on the show this morning to tell their story. It’s not pretty, believe me.

The reason why the bluffs along the Illinois River have become prime mining territory has to do with the nature of the pure silica frac sand found there and along many rivers in the Midwest. At one time, glass was the major product derived from the Jordan and St. Peter sandstone. Now it’s a technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which chemicals–many of them undisclosed–are mixed with large quantities of water and sand and injected into wells at extremely high pressure in order to create fissures in the rock that will release oil and gas deposits.

The problem is that this process is being implicated in contaminating water supplies in a number of states, and it’s even possible that the technology is connected to minor earthquakes.

Meanwhile, the State of Illinois has no safeguards when it comes to protecting its citizens from potential damage caused by fracking. The NRDC’s Nick Magrisso writes that the NRDC is urging the Illinois General Assembly to pass comprehensive fracking legislation that would include:

  • A citizens right to take part in the process of permitting wells and appealing permits;
  • Adequate disclosure of the toxic chemicals companies plan to pump underground;
  • Testing and monitoring for contamination before and after fracking;
  • Prohibition on the use of unnecessary toxic chemicals such as BTEX chemicals (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene), and a requirement that drillers prove for any toxic chemical that no safer alternatives exists;
  • Tough standards for waste storage and disposal, and an end in Illinois to the loophole in federal law exempting drilling and fracking waste from being treated as hazardous – one of the many federal loopholes the oil and gas industry enjoys ; and
  • Measures to limit air pollution from both the fracking operations and the heavy truck traffic that accompanies it.

He adds:

Illinois decision makers need to protect Illinois’ citizens, not the pockets of oil and gas interests.  Illinois has a tremendous opportunity to lead the nation and get the rules right by developing responsible standards to govern fracking and by continuing to invest in clean energy, as we have done with energy efficiency and renewable energy – policies that have created thousands of jobs across the state .  However, taking that opportunity to lead on fracking rules will require going beyond partisan divides and ideological rhetoric .  It will require coming together to ensure no dangerous, “wild west” fracking happens on our watch.  And we should do so, because if we do not act together to ensure that fracking is done responsibly if at all, we will end up facing a legacy of pollution together, with the taxpayers left to foot the bill for clean up.

Perhaps the best action that can be taken right now is to have a moratorium on fracking in Illinois until the General Assembly can come up with guidelines to protect the people of the state. Some municipalities are alredy moving in that direction, including the City of Carbondale, according to Environment Illinois:

In a unanimous decision, the Carbondale City Council passed a resolution calling on the Illinois General Assembly to “enact a moratorium on high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing until such time as the health and environmental concerns of the people of Illinois are addressed”. In this decision, Carbondale joins the Illinois towns of Carlyle, Anna and Alto Pass and Union and Jackson Counties in taking action supporting a moratorium, becoming the largest city yet to do so.

Now let’s move from the discouraging to the encouraging. As I mentioned above, a number of commercial buildings are participating in Retrofit Chicago’s Commercial Buildings Initiative.

The NRDC’s Rebecca Stanfield reports on how this applies to the Franklin Center, which was originally called the AT&T Corporate Center and was built in 1980s and early 90s. The complex is comprised of two buildings, 60-floors and 34-floors tall, and the owner, Tishman Speyer .is working with tenants, employing data centers and prioritizing energy management to bring their energy use down by 20% in the next five years.

Whew! We have a lot to cover on the show today. Let’s get started.