Tag Archives: fracking

Sierra Club sends a strong message–fracking rules must be strengthed

IDNR legal staffer carting away our 3,515 comment letters.

IDNR legal staffer carting away our 3,515 comment letters.

Friday, January 3rd, marked the deadline to submit comments regarding draft rules governing the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act. At 4:00 pm on Friday the Illinois Chapter’s comment letter along with the 3,515 comments you, our membership generated, were hand-delivered to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) in Springfield.

Sierra Club joined citizens and organizations from across the state calling for tougher measures to protect public health and the environment. IDNR received nearly 20,000 comments from a diverse group of faith, community, student and environmental groups that included Faith in Place, the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), Illinois Environmental Council (IEC), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Respiratory Health Association, Illinois People’s Action, Fair Economy Illinois, IIRON and IRON Student Network, and Food & Water Watch.

-1During the 50-day comment period five public hearings were held. And, despite the fact that many were held during the holiday season, approximately 1,000 citizens attended the public hearings. The overwhelming majority of attendees expressed serious concerns that the proposed rules do not reflect the minimum required by the regulatory Act, and will not provide the basic protections needed to protect the public and environment.

fracking pad and impoundmentHigh-volume horizontal fracturing, or “fracking,” is a dangerous practice that, unfortunately, is currently exempt from some of our most important federal environmental protections. This puts a great burden on states, and here in Illinois on the Department, to be the lead regulators of this dangerous practice.  The safest and best approach for Illinois would be to enact a moratorium on the practice so that we can learn more from other states’ experiences, and ongoing scientific and health research.  However, we realize that, if fracking is to occur in Illinois, we must adopt the strongest possible regulations to protect ourselves.  We view the new protections required by the Act not as the ultimate, or even sufficient regulations, but a bare minimum that should be strengthened over time.

IDNR will now review the comments it has received on the draft rules and will have the opportunity to offer revisions before unveiling final rules, which ultimately go before the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) for final approval.

Given the grave risk fracking poses to Illinois, we need the strongest possible protections from IDNR. Illinois must also make it very clear that those who would bend or break the law would face severe penalties and fines, not a slap on the wrist. These rules need to be stronger, and the penalties for breaking them must be strict enough to punish those who would cut corners and jeopardize our water supply.

oil-drill-hiRather than rushing through the rule-making process, we urge the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to take the time needed to make sure the administrative rules provide the highest protection for the people and environment of Illinois. Our future and our families depend on it.

To stay informed please join the Sierra Club Fight Frack Team. You will receive timely updates on the fracking issue as it unfolds in Illinois, and be called upon when necessary to submit comments, attend public hearings, etc.

Sierra Club Releases “Tales from the Pit,” A Collection of Firsthand Accounts of Illinois’ Resource Extraction Rush

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Contact: Terri Treacy, terri.treacy@sierraclub.org

CHICAGO, IL—It’s the scary season, but some horror stories are no fun at all.  This month Sierra Club launched a spooky series of stories, ‘Tales from the Pit,’ about resource extraction threats casting shadows across the Illinois countryside. The stories are submitted by citizens who live near these sites and have experienced firsthand the horrors of damaging resource extraction.

“The rush to mine coal and fracking sand in Illinois is a nightmare for those of us living near mines that threaten our drinking water, pollute our air, destroy communities and wreak havoc on farmland,” said Peggy Enquist of Ottawa.  “To save our communities from these threats we need mining reform in Illinois. ”

Coal use is on the decline nationally. But here in Illinois a growing international export market and the relatively low cost to mine coal has led to a surge of new mine proposals. The increased demand combined with inadequate regulation and enforcement have locals concerned about drinking water pollution, loss of farmland and quality of life.  Also, increasing demand for sand used in “fracking” operations has led to new proposals for open pit frack sand mines, including adjacent to Starved Rock State Park.

Some of the stories highlighted at “Tales From the Pit” focus on new industry dangers like the frack sand mine stalking Starved Rock State Park. Then there are half-dead threats like the North Canton coal strip mine that, if built, will pollute the drinking water supply of half the population of Fulton County. Others are environmental nightmares like the mine with over 600 documented violations of the Clean Water Act.

Sierra Club and local residents are calling on Illinois DNR and Governor Pat Quinn to strengthen protections against mining pollution and damage, and to crack down on mining companies that repeatedly violate environmental laws.

“If this movie is going to end well for communities in rural Illinois, it’s going to take more than silver stakes and cloves of garlic to save the day,” says Jack Darin, Director of the Sierra Club,  Illinois Chapter.  “We need real protections for people and their drinking water, and strong enforcement of those laws.”

“Across Illinois, big industry is mining and digging up the Prairie State in pursuit of dirty fossil fuels, and it’s time for the state to step up its efforts to protect people, wildlife, drinking water, and prime farmland,” said Terri Treacy, Conservation Field Representative for the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter.

The Tales from the Pit stories can be found at http://illinois.sierraclub.org/pit_tales.html, and new horror stories will be added in the days ahead.

Protecting Illinois From Fracking

fracking-diagram The prospect of the gas industry coming Illinois to extract gas from beneath our state using high-volume hydraulic fracturing has caused a great deal of controversy and concern, especially in parts of Illinois where leasing for drilling rights has been underway for well over a year. Horror stories from other states about open pits of toxic wastewater, secret brews of toxins injected into the earth, air emissions sickening neighbors, and contaminated drinking water are just a few of the impacts seen elsewhere.

Can we stop the industry from bringing fracking to Illinois? When legislators proposed a two-year moratorium on the practice last year, we strongly supported that proposal, and we support continued calls for a moratorium today. However, we also need to acknowledge that fracking is legal today in Illinois, and for all we know, may already be occurring as you read this. We also need to recognize that our current laws regulating oil and gas drilling, originally passed in 1941, are totally inadequate to deal with the range of issues raised by injecting millions of gallons of chemical-laced fluid deep into the earth only to come surging back with gas and potentially oil. In short, Illinois citizens and our environment, at the moment, are virtually defenseless against against the problems experienced in other states.

That’s why it is essential that Illinois move quickly to get the strongest possible safeguards in place to protect citizens and their water supplies. Fortunately, discussions in Springfield have produced a basic agreement on what would be the strongest set of protections of any state in the country. The open pits for wastewater in use in other states will be banned here, and there will be none of the dumping the water into wastewater treatment plants, which has overwhelmed sewage plants elsewhere. The discharge of any fracking wastewater into surface water will be a felony offense. The industry must disclose what chemicals are used, and the most toxic ones will be banned. Ann Alexander from the Natural Resources Defense Council, who helped represent environmental groups in the negotiations that produced the proposal, has a good rundown on the major provisions of the bill here.

Open pits for wastewater will be banned in Illinois

Open pits for wastewater will be banned in Illinois

We certainly applaud the leaders who recognized the urgency of getting these safeguards in place. Representatives John Bradley (D-Marion) and David Reis (R-Olney) led the talks, and Ann Williams (D-Chicago), Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana), and House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn-Currie (D-Chicago) particularly focused on the environmental safeguards. Governor Quinn’s Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which has been advocating for strong legislation for over a year, will be faced with regulating the industry and played a critical role. Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s team fought for the strongest possible regulations at every step of the way.

The bill is certainly not perfect, and its ultimate effectiveness in protecting public health and the environment will be in how it is enforced. This will be a major test for the Department of Natural Resources, which will need significant new resources to do the job. That will be a key issue in the next phase of discussions, which will focus on taxes and fees the industry must pay. If the safeguards in HB2615 are going to work, they must be accompanied by adequate fees, paid by industry, to cover the state’s substantial costs.

We certainly share the concerns of those who live in areas where tracking is likely to occur – they have reason to be concerned. Hopefully, once House Bill 2615 is signed into law, they will be much safer than they are today, and much better protected than citizens in other states facing the same concerns. We may not be able to decide whether fracking comes to Illinois, but we absolutely must decide to make sure we are as protected as we can be.

Don’t Frack With Illinois!

That’s the message a growing coalition of organizations and concerned citizens is sending to industry and decision-makers regarding the proposal to open Illinois to high-volume hydraulic fracturing–or fracking.

Gas leasing speculation has been quite a spectacle in Illinois, especially in the southeastern counties where shale gas development is thought to be the most promising. We learned early on that the state has virtually no regulations in place to protect the public and the environment from the hazards of fracking. Seeing all to0 clearly the myriad of damages to people, communities and the environment that shale gas development has caused in other states a coalition of environmental organizations came together to address the issue head on.

For nearly a year, Sierra Club and other organizations have established a list of measures that are necessary for the protection of people and places in Illinois. They include:

  • Chemical disclosure–before fracking–of exactly what chemicals are being used in the frack.
  • Baseline groundwater testing before the frack and following monitoring afterwards.
  • Water withdrawal plans.
  • An adequate public notice and appeal process for frack well permits.
  • Adequate setbacks from water supplies, including water wells, streams, ponds and lakes.
  • Prohibition on the use of toxic chemicals such as BTEX chemicals (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene).
  • Prohibition of storing wastewater in open pits.
  • Treating  fracking waste as hazardous waste.
  • Ending clean air act exemptions for fracking sites.

Until industry is willing to accept reasonable regulations that protect the environment and the people who depend upon it for their lives and livelihoods, no permits should be issued for high-volume hydraulic fracturing. Therefore, we continue to support a moratorium on fracking until Illinois has developed robust and comprehensive regulations that protect people and places from an activity that has been so harmful in other parts of the country.

Please ask your state legislators for his or her support by co-sponsoring Senate Bill 3280 with a moratorium on fracking until robust regulations have been developed.

And, please support this important campaign by taking part in the Don’t Frack With Illinois event—a virtual fundraising event sponsored by the Shawnee Group Sierra Club. Win a handcrafted acoustic guitar generously donated by Whipple Creek Guitars in Pomona, Illinois. Visit the event website to buy tickets and your chance to WIN!!

High-volume Hydraulic Fracturing Background Information

Industry is proposing to use high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing to reach oil and/or natural gas in the New Albany Shale. After drilling into the shale, which is located between 4,000 to 5,000 feet down, the well bore is then drilled horizontally for one to two miles. Following the drilling the well is then “completed” or “fracked.” Fracking is process in which water, sand and toxic chemicals (fracking fluid) are injected into the well at high pressure to create small cracks in the rock that allow natural gas to freely flow to the surface.

Each well uses between 2 to 8 million gallons of fresh water taken from our lakes and aquifers. Since one well is often fracked up to 18 times and there could be one well for every forty acres of land within the New Albany Shale, this amounts to an enormous quantity of fresh water permanently taken out of the system.

Additionally, an estimated 30% to 70% of the fracking fluid will resurface, bringing back with it toxic substances that are naturally present in underground oil and gas deposits, as well as the chemicals used in the fracking fluid. Industry is proposing to store this toxic brew in open evaporation pits until it can be hauled away in tanker trucks to deep injection wells. Spills and leaks throughout this process are inevitable, putting wells, farm ponds, streams, lakes, and aquifers and the people, pets, livestock and wildlife that use them at great risk.

In many areas, after a well has been fracked, people’s well water has become contaminated by chemicals (some even radioactive) that migrate into aquifers through natural fissures and/or possibly through abandoned wells.

Air pollution is also a big problem. Volatile organic compounds from wastewater flowback pits and airborne chemical releases from the equipment involved in the fracking process all add up to a high level of air pollution in many areas.

Water Issues Targeted at this Year’s Illinois Hunting and Fishing Day Celebrations

This year’s National Hunting and Fishing Day Celebrations in northern and southern Illinois were a great opportunity for Illinois Chapter Sierra Club staff and volunteers to engage the public on many water-centric issues in Illinois. Armed with buttons, stickers, flyers, and fact sheets our volunteers and staff cast their lines and reeled in a sizable audience to discuss the difficulties of keeping our Illinois waters happy and healthy.

At the Northern Illinois show, Sierra Club staff largely focused on the increasingly pressing issue of the Asian carp, which are slowly-yet-surely advancing up the Illinois River towards Lake Michigan. We were particularly delighted to meet so many young fisherwomen and men who were very knowledgeable about the problem. Attendees were interested to hear about the Sierra Club’s support of permanent separation between the Mississippi River and Great Lakes basins via our Healthy Water Solutions (HWS) coalition, and were very concerned about the inevitable consequences if the Asian carp successfully enter the Lakes.  We were excited to garner additional support for our coalition, and to raise public awareness of aquatic invasive species problematic throughout the state (visit the coalition website for more information).

High-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for oil and gas was the focus of the Club’s booth at the Southern Illinois event. Fracking, which is poised to take place across much of downstate Illinois, poses threats to fresh water at every stage of operation. Over 150 people showed their support for the Club’s position on fracking by signing a postcard to their legislator asking him/her to support a moratorium on fracking to allow the Department of Natural Resources time to review the environmental impacts of fracking and the state time to review, develop and establish potential regulations that will adequately safeguard our water and environment.

Many thanks to all the people who stopped by our booths in northern and southern Illinois and showed support for clean water and a healthy environment for our families, our wildlife and our future.

Hydraulic Fracturing Background Information

Industry is proposing to use high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing to reach oil and/or natural gas in the New Albany Shale. After drilling into the shale, which is located between 4,000 to 5,000 feet down, the well bore is then drilled horizontally for up to a mile. Following the drilling the well is then “completed” or “fracked.” Fracking is process in which water, sand and toxic chemicals (fracking fluid) are injected into the well at high pressure to create small cracks in the rock that allow natural gas to freely flow to the surface.

Each well uses between 2 to 8 million gallons of fresh water taken from our lakes and aquifers. Since one well is often fracked up to 18 times and there could be one well for every forty acres of land within the New Albany Shale, this amounts to an enormous quantity of fresh water taken out of the system.

Additionally, an estimated 30% to 70% of the fracking fluid will resurface, bringing back with it toxic substances that are naturally present in underground oil and gas deposits, as well as the chemicals used in the fracking fluid. Industry is proposing to store this toxic brew in open evaporation pits until it can be hauled away in tanker trucks to deep injection wells. Spills and leaks throughout this process are inevitable, putting wells, farm ponds, streams, lakes, and aquifers and the people, pets, livestock and wildlife that use them at great risk.

In some areas, after a well has been fracked, people’s well water has become contaminated by chemicals (some radioactive) that migrate into aquifers through natural fissures and/or possibly through abandoned wells.

Southern Illinois Judge Grants Natural Gas Rights From More Than 1000 People Without Their Permission

Just two weeks ago the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a draft report linking hydraulic fracturing to groundwater contamination. Yet, despite this report, yesterday a Saline County, Illinois judge granted Colorado-based Next Energy, LLC the right to lease mineral rights from more than a thousand people without their permission!

Dimock, PA fracking well

Dimock, PA drilling site of Cabot Oil and Gas. State officials ordered the Houston-based energy company to permanently shut down some of its wells, pay nearly a quarter million dollars in fines, and permanently provide drinking water to affected families for contaminating local drinking water.

Deep beneath the coal seams of Saline County lay the New Albany and Maquoketa shale deposits at 4,200 to 6,100 feet deep respectively. Next Energy, LLC plans to extract natural gas from the deep shale beds with a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking is process in which water, sand and chemicals are injected into the well at high pressure to create small cracks in the rock that allow natural gas to freely flow to the surface.

Toxic chemicals are used at every stage of the fracking process.  Drilling muds, a combination of toxic and non-toxic substances, are used to drill the well. To facilitate the release of natural gas after drilling, approximately a million or more gallons of fluids, loaded with toxic chemicals, are injected underground under high pressure using diesel-powered heavy equipment that runs continuously during the operation.

One well can be fracked 10 or more times and there can be up to 28 wells on one well pad.  An estimated 30% to 70% of the fracking fluid will resurface, bringing back with it toxic substances that are naturally present in underground oil and gas deposits, as well as the chemicals used in the fracking fluid.

fracking pad and impoundment

Fracking pad with waste water impoundment in Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of http://www.marcellus-shale.us

Most well pads contain pits that hold used drilling muds, fracking fluids and the contaminated water (produced water) which surfaces with the gas.  Produced water often continues to surface for the life of the well (20 to 30 years) and is often hauled in “water trucks” to large, central evaporation pits.  Many of the chemicals found in drilling and evaporation pits are considered hazardous wastes and upon closure, every pit has the potential to become a superfund site.

In addition to the land and water contamination issues, at each stage of production and delivery, tons of toxic volatile compounds, including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, etc., and fugitive natural gas (methane), escape and mix with nitrogen oxides from the exhaust of diesel-driven equipment to produce ground-level air pollution-causing ozone, which can spread up to 200 miles beyond the immediate region where gas is being produced. Ozone not only causes irreversible damage to the lungs, it is equally damaging to many plants and crops.

groundwater contaminated with methane catches fire

Well water contaminated with methane catches fire at the tap. Photo from the film, Gasland.

Hydraulic fracturing is one of only two underground injection processes exempted from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. States where hydraulic fracturing occurs have varying regulatory requirements, some of which are weak. For example, in Illinois oil and gas companies are not required to publicly disclose the types and amounts of chemicals that are injected underground in the fracturing process. In other words, nearby residents or landowners have no way of knowing what kinds of chemicals are being injected underground that may have contaminated their drinking water.

Between the county judge’s overeager bow to industry and Illinois’ oil and gas industry exemptions from the safe drinking water act, the citizens of Saline County are being fracked in more ways than one!

Sources:
The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, Inc.
Sierra Club