MARION — This year’s technical sessions for the 2013 annual meeting of the Illinois Mining Institute at The Pavilion of the City of Marion included hot topics, such as hydraulic fracturing.

Executive Vice President Brad Richards of the Illinois Oil & Gas Association was on hand Tuesday to talk about the controversial method of oil and natural gas

extraction. It is often referred to as fracking.

“Don’t let anyone tell you natural gas will replace coal,” Richards said detailing a

scenario of both industries working together to meet global demand for different

energy needs.

Hydraulic fracturing itself — which involves a high-pressure mix of water, sand or gravel and chemicals to break rock formations which then release oil and natural gas — is not a new process. Its renewed interest has evolved over the past two decades as part of advancements in

exploration.

Further exploration and processes including horizontal drilling showed particular rock beds to be rich in organic shale with low permeability, Richards said.

“There’s a lot of gas out there,” Richards said, noting market prices for the commodity are currently slumping. The same process has made a big impact in domestic oil production, which Richards said has “surged” the past five years and is making the United States the largest oil supplier in the world.

“We are seeing a tremendous surge in oil production. Here in Illinois, hydraulic fracturing will be more for oil and natural gas liquids condensation,” Richards said, adding that as a result, more fertilizer plants are being built in this region to capitalize on the extraction.

Richards, a geologist, said, job development will be huge, as skilled-trades people will arrive here from different regions of the country during the initial mining. However, SIU and area community colleges will help get local people employed by offering the appropriate training, Richards said.

Leasing of mineral rights by Southern Illinois property owners has already turned up “big checks on the kitchen table,” amounting to at least $400 to $500 an acre of land, Richards said.

He also complimented the state legislators from this area who helped pass a law this spring that permits and regulates high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing.

“The legislators from Southern Illinois worked pretty hard on this. We in the industry made some tough concessions. There is groundwater testing before and after the mining. Nowhere in this country has that requirement,” he said.

Although Illinois has passed strict regulations regarding the hydraulic fracturing mining process, much of the current opposition in this region especially is pointing at possible safety consequences in terms of groundwater contamination or the triggering of a natural disaster, such as an earthquake.

“It is currently impossible to regulate fracking to make it safe,” Annette McMichael of Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Earth (SAFE) was quoted in a story by The Southern Illinoisan. “That is why SAFE is asking for a fracking ban.”

The organization is concerned about the use of injection wells if fracking comes to Southern Illinois and worries that abandoned wells, wells that may have “lost their integrity,” in the region might be used.

“Injecting fracking wastewater into abandoned wells will create earthquakes. It’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when,’” she said. “To my knowledge, fracking has never been done on large faults such as ours in Southern Illinois — the New Madrid and Wabash Valley faults are massive. And, we have several smaller faults as well.”

However, Art McGarr, a spokesman for the U.S. Geological Survey previously told The Southern, he wouldn’t be too concerned about earthquakes capable of being felt at the surface.

The greater risk, although still small, is not necessarily with the fracking but with wastewater disposal by injection into deep wells, he said.

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