Return to main blog

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The cost of fracking

What are the risks of tapping Illinois’ trapped oil and natural gas?
By Patrick Yeagle

 Nearly a mile below the surface of southern Illinois, a vast reserve of oil and natural gas sits locked in thick shale rock. While Illinois has a long history of tapping into its enormous fossil fuel resources, unlocking the shale reserve takes a new approach that could bring both economic windfall and potential for environmental disasters.

That new approach is called hydraulic fracturing – “fracking” for short – and it requires a whole lot of water, sand and toxic chemicals. Fracking is legal in Illinois, but state lawmakers are considering a measure to regulate it, while some environmental groups call for an outright ban. Some states like Texas – which made more than $1.5 billion in revenue from fracking in its 2012 fiscal year – are wide open for fracking, but the practice is almost nonexistent in Illinois because oil and gas companies fear the lack of a regulatory structure that provides predictability. While the legislation on fracking in Illinois contains precautionary measures to guard against pollution, some opponents say the bill doesn’t go far enough. Once you frack, they say, you can’t go back.