Video: A fracking fight heats up in Southern Illinois

by Mitchell Wenkus

March 20, 2014

Towards the southern tip of Illinois near the Indiana and Kentucky borders is a place called Crossville. It sits in White County. Besides the navigational direction, what differentiates it from Northern Illinois are its rolling hills, culture, and natural resources: mainly coal and oil.

Crossvilles city logo has emblems of the three staples of its economy: farming, coal, and oil. Industrialized fossil fuel extraction has been happening in this part of the state way before my grandfather moved to Chicago to work in thestockyards.

Crossville’s logo says a lot about life in Southern Illinois, where extractive industries have been a part of life for generations.

A few days ago, Johnson County, which is just two counties over from White County, voted 58% against a referendum to ban fracking. Its frustrating to hear fracking could happen in my home state. But what really gets me is that outside interests, namely companies from out of state who are looking to make a buck, engaged in a huge misinformation campaign that divided the community before the vote.

That vote came because of fears overa new new type of fossil fuel extraction on Southern Illinois’ horizon: high volume horizontal fracturing, commonly known as fracking. It’s different from the conventional kind of vertical fracking, which has been used in Illinois for decades. This is a point of confusion for both pro and anti fracking people.

Horizontal frackinguses millions of gallons of water, goes horizontally underneath peoples property, and creates more air pollution.

People like former oil worker Steve Combs are on the front lines of the tests fields for horizontal fracturing. I made a short film about Steve, and I think it really shows the human side behind all the arguing and back and forth.

High Volume Horizontal Fracturinguses huge amounts of water,and almost all of it needs to be disposed of somewhere.A waste water disposal well from regular oil production has already polluted Steve Combs well. Whats to happen once there is exponentially more waste water to dispose of?

And there are so many other concerns when it comes to fracking:

Although there are a lot of reasons to not want fracking in my home state (or elsewhere), I have to recognize it is easy for a person from Chicagoland to choose not to work in the fossil fuel industry. It is not as easy for someone living in the Southern part of the state. Nor is it easy for a statewide politician to ignore the coal and oil industries.

New and sustainable energy infrastructure needs to be created. Its exciting to see 91 communities in Illinois using 100% clean energy. Unfortunately, few if any of those clean energy alternatives and jobs are reaching the southern part of the state, which is the place that’s most affected by the boom and bust of fossil fuel extraction.

The Coalfields Regeneration Fund could be a good start at employing struggling coal-mining communities.

In the meantime, fracking needs to be banned. Steve Combs and a good portion of Johnson County agree the health and environmental impacts of fracking are too great.I am hopeful that this is only the beginning of our fight.

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