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Monday, June 20, 2011

"Is fracking worth the risk in Southern Illinois?" by Les Winkeler, The Southern Illinoisan, June 10, 2011

Is fracking worth the risk in Southern Illinois?

by Les Winkeler, The Southern Illinoisan, June 10, 2011
Fracking, otherwise known as hydraulic fracturing, is coming to a county near you.
Fracking is a process developed to aid in the extraction of natural gas. It involves injecting chemical-laced water and sand into rock layers below the earth. The injection results in the fracturing of rock layers which results in gas being released.
The process has been a lightning rod for controversy.
The mineral industry claims the process is benign. Environmentalists and residents of areas where fracking has been practiced claim it is an assault on the environment. You have probably seen news reports showing homeowners lighting the natural gas escaping from their faucets.
Benzene is one of the chemicals used in the process. The Center for Disease Control suggests that if you've been in contact with benzene you remove your clothing, rapidly wash your body with soap and water and seek medical attention as quickly as possible.
Currently there are companies, intent on extracting natural gas using the technique, purchasing mineral rights in Southern Illinois.
Frankly, that scares me.
Of course, there are people that will tell you that my fears are misplaced.
A recent study by Duke University seems to indicate the process is benign - at least that is one interpretation being tossed out there.
In a New York Times article Robert Jackson, one of the Duke professors conducting the study stated, "The hot-button issue is fracking. But, I believe it's more about the drilling than the fracking."
The contention is that faulty wells or improper drilling techniques have resulted in contamination of wells and water supplies. It is noted that methane, not fracking fluid, is the source of contamination found in wells located near fracking sites.
Really? Isn't that reassuring!
It's difficult not to be a bit insulted by this argument.
It's like saying jumping off the Empire State Building won't kill you ... it's the landing.
I'm fully aware that our country is facing an energy crisis. I'm fully aware that sometimes compromises need to be made.
However, compromise ends where serious health concerns begin.
Critics will argue the economic benefit to the region. Certainly, there is money to be made in mineral extraction.
Conversely, Southern Illinois has been trying to build a tourism economy for decades. It doesn't make much sense to risk polluting our ground and surface water. It doesn't make sense to put the area's plentiful wildlife at risk.
John Prine probably said it best in his environmental anthem "Paradise":
Then the coal company came with the world's largest shovel
And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land
Well, they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken
Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man.
We don't need to go there - again.
LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at:, or call 618-351-5088.

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