Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

Woolsey Energy Corporation, based in Kansas, relinquished its Illinois fracking permits last week. Woolsey received a permit to drill near the small White County village of Enfield.

Some of the news stories chronicling the event contained headlines proclaiming environmentalists had carried the day.

I’d take issue with that headline.

The victory isn’t limited to environmentalists. The winners include Southern Illinois, Illinois and the United States itself.

For the record, Woolsey said it relinquished its permit because of Illinois’ onerous web of regulations. Call me crazy, but I’m not buying that — hook, line or sinker.

Does anyone really believe that if the geology suggested Woolsey was sitting on a serious play that a couple pages of paperwork, or even a couple thousand pages of paperwork, would cause them to walk away from the permit?

And, if Woolsey reconsiders, the company will have to begin the permitting process from scratch.

The reality is this. On Tuesday this week indicated the price of crude oil at $57.21 per barrel. It’s doubtful that drilling on a single permit, in an unproven field, would have been profitable.

According to Forbes magazine, the break-even price for oil can vary from $30-100 per barrel, depending on the quality of the field and the number of wells being operated. From the outside looking in, this just doesn’t appear to be a profitable venture.

Then, there is public opinion.

Fracking was, and is, a divisive issue in Southern Illinois.

Some people view a new wave of oil and gas exploration with dollar signs dancing in their eyes. They see a region awash in oil money. Some people would certainly make money, but the industry comes with its own set of nightmares, not the least of which is straining the infrastructure of small communities such as Enfield.

And, the environmental risks are real. The Environmental Protection Agency tied fracking to contamination of ground water sources in 2016. “The report, done at the request of Congress, provides scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources in the United States under some circumstances,” states the introductory paragraph.

That doesn’t take into account the destruction of habitat, high volume traffic on rural roads and other negative environmental effects.

In addition, injection wells in Oklahoma have been tied to increased seismic activity.

Since the region is located on the New Madrid Fault and much of southeastern Illinois relies on groundwater for municipal water systems, any fracking well is drilled with an 0-2 count.

For now, Southern Illinoisans can breathe a sigh of relief. However, I suspect Illinois’ fracking regulations will look much less onerous if oil prices soar over $100 a barrel.

In the meantime, Southern Illinois, Illinois and the United States in general needs to look to energy sources of the future, not backward to fossil fuels, for economic development.

While the United States continues insipid arguments about whether climate change exists, the rest of the world is surging forward. China employs almost 10 times more people in the solar energy than the United States does.

China is expected to produce 20 percent of its power by clean energy sources in 2030.

That kind of industrial leadership is the role the United States used to occupy.


On Twitter: @LesWinkeler​


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