By STEVE BINDER
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Officials with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR), after nearly a year’s review, have approved the first permit for a hydraulic fracturing project since lawmakers OK’d a 2014 law that some environmentalists said was the toughest in the nation.
The permit, issued to Wichita, Kan.-based Woolsey Operating Co., allows for a fracturing operation on farmland just north of southern Illinois town of Enfield in White County.
Woolsey Vice President Mark Sooter said the company plans to complete an exploration test well by the end of the year and determine whether the company would then seek permits for additional wells. Every well requires a separate permit under Illinois’ Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act.
Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, involves the injection of water and certain chemicals deep into shale so that oil and natural gas can be extracted. The process isn’t new, but it has been more prevalent since 2010 and is widely credited with boosting the United States’ production of oil and natural gas.
Environmentalists long have opposed the process, saying it can pollute water tables and ripen conditions for earthquakes.
Since 2012, though, the amount of fracking nationally has waned in large part because oil and natural gas prices nosedived. Since the Illinois law was passed nearly four years ago, Woolsey has been the only company to formally apply for a fracturing permit, according to the DNR.
And in July, the state received more than 10,000 comments about the Woolsey application, with most coming from opponents such as the Food & Water Watch, the Illinois Green Party, Southern Illinoisans against Fracturing our Environment (SAFE) and the Environmental Defense Fund.
“White County is not only particularly vulnerable to the impacts of fracking due to high levels of naturally occurring radioactivity and seismic activity, but also already faces periodic oil and brine spills,” officials with Food & Water Watch, a group advocating for healthy food and clean water, said in a written statement.
Woolsey’s permit covers everything involving the construction of the well, its operation and its regular monitoring and reporting requirements, according to a statement from the DNR.
But Rich Whitney, vice chair of the Illinois Green Party and SAFE, said he’s doubtful the DNR will be able to uphold its oversight role, particularly after the state went more than two years without an approved budget, slashed thousands of jobs and built a bill backlog that hit nearly $15 billion. “After all these years of living with budget cuts, there is not the will nor the manpower to properly regulate and address the fracking process and disposal sites,” he said.
As he emphasized the detailed and lengthy application process put in place in Illinois, Sooter said the company is confident it will protect the environment as it has done throughout its history.
“We feel comfortable that we will be able to protect the environment,” he stated.