An anti-fracking group Wednesday claimed Illinois legislators are putting oil and gas interests ahead of worker safety, a group spokesperson said in response to calls for faster movement on pending rules needed to regulate the industry.
Supporters of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, including state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, a former union organizer, said that’s untrue, pointing to both existing federal and state laws on workplace safety.
“Not one group should ever talk to me about worker safety and workers’ rights,” said Phelps, a Laborers organizer for 15 years. “No one should ever try to say I don’t care about worker rights and worker safety.”
Members of Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment issued the response after a news conference Tuesday at which state legislators, Phelps among them, mayors, and industry and union representatives called on Gov. Pat Quinn to fast track the rule-making process needed in order to implement the state’s Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act, signed into law more than a year ago.
Fracking proponents fear that if regulations are not passed soon, oil and gas companies will walk away from the state, taking with them jobs and a much needed economic boost, they said.
The news conference was at the offices of Laborers 773 in Marion.
SAFE spokesperson Annette McMichael argued worker safety has been and continues to be ignored in state fracking talks to date, pushed aside in favor of economic benefits the industry might bring to the state.
In its response, SAFE maintained hydraulic horizontal fracturing has killed, severely injured and exposed workers to dangerous toxins, citing a recent compilation of reports on fracking-related issues including occupational safety and hazards.
“They seem concerned about bringing these jobs in but there is never any discussion about making these jobs safe,” she said. “I think it is very sad that our elected officials are more concerned about the potential economic benefits for a few people versus the health and safety of the workers in the fracking industry.”
SAFE pointed to sources that have reported on oil and gas fatalities and injuries included in a “Compendium of Scientific, Medical and Media Findings.” The compendium was published July 10 by Concerned Health Professionals of New York, which has called for comprehensive studies of fracking’s impact on health.
One example included a Feb. 25 Houston Chronicle year-long investigation into fatalities and injuries.
“Within just one year in Texas, 65 oil and gas workers died, 79 lost limbs, 82 were crushed, 92 suffered burns and 675 broke bones,” the compendium’s authors quoted the Chronicle as reporting. “From 2007 to 2012, at least 664 U.S. workers were killed in oil and gas fields.”
Mark Denzler, the vice president and COO of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association who participated in Tuesday’s news conference, said discussions on worker safety have occurred despite existing strict rules for all workplaces established by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which can shut an operation down if unsafe conditions exist.
He also noted ongoing training programs for fracking or other dangerous jobs and added unions such as Laborers and the AFL-CIO participated in the news conference.
“The statement that we have not looked into or that it has not been discussed is absolutely false,” Denzler said. “I can tell you there are numerous regulations that guide safety.”