Drill site selection for oil and natural gas exploration within 70,000 Saline County acres could begin in June, said the owner of a Denver-based energy research group that has been purchasing mineral rights leases throughout Southern Illinois.
"We are mainly interested in oil," said Jack Overstreet, owner of Next Energy LLC that makes investments by acquiring mineral rights leases and preparing geology reports to determine what exploration operator is best suited for the job.
The upcoming project also will entail natural gas extraction with the possibility of hooking into current interstate gas lines stretching from East Texas natural gas fields to points along the east coast.
Work is continuing to get land abstracts up-to-date and working with Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Overstreet said.
The private company's work to acquire mineral rights leases required a Saline County judge's ruling a few days before Christmas that allowed Next Energy to lease mineral rights from owners without their consent.
Overstreet said the company utilized an Illinois statute that was designed to help identify heirs and mineral rights owners by allowing county courts to appoint local trustees who can open escrow accounts and act as conservators for those parties.
The company had compiled a list about 1,500 mineral rights owners within the 70,000 acres and were able to track down about 100 of them to get lease agreements, Overstreet said.
Mineral rights owners get lease bonus payments and, if oil is produced, they share in the profits or royalties. Land owners where drilling occurs will get monetary compensation by way of surface damage agreements, Overstreet said.
Successful oil production will enhance the tax base for counties and the state. The work will create jobs and local service compa-nies would be hired, he said.
"There is pretty good talent pool in the way of area service companies," said Overstreet who was raised in Mount Vernon and worked with area oil and gas companies when he was a teenager.
A horizontal drilling method would be used to produce oil. Natural gas extraction would be aided in its extraction through a method known as fracking which involves pumping water, sand and chemicals to crack rock to allow recovery of gas trapped in the rock.
"There has been very little evidence of contamination from that technology," Overstreet said about arguments against fracking.
Fracking is not without controversy. It began getting national attention after the release of the documentary "Gasland" in which filmmaker Josh Fox traveled to 32 states and met with residents whose communities were affected by fracking operations. In a dramatic illustration of contaminated drinking water, the film shows tap water that can be lit on fire.
Industry officials claim the documentary is sensational and since its release have spent time debating what the documentary pre-sented as facts about fracking.
Sam Stearns, public education coordinator for Friends of Bell Smith Springs, has been working to get the word out about the risks associated with fracking.
"At every stage of the process there is great potential for health hazards created by the drilling and fracking process," Stearns told The Southern Illinoisan in an earlier interview.
He said among the risks are mixing chemicals with the water, creating mini-earthquakes during the moment of fracking, the po-tential for the chemical-water mix to seep into water tables and the potential leak of the pipeline once a well is producing.
Stearns said fracking fluid that is pumped out after use can be stored in containment basins where the water is evaporated; leaving concentrated liquid chemicals to dispose of. Another method involves evaporation until only a chemical powder is left, which he said could become windblown and spread from the containment site.
"It's just another avenue for harmful pollution that occurs as part of the process," he said. "People need to consider the whole process not just the fracking."
- The Southern's Stephen Rickerl contributed to this report.