A deeply corrupt and dangerous decision-making process has been happening in Illinois, and hardly anybody knows about it. Despite more than four years of concerted, resolute opposition from the majority of Illinoisans to horizontal hydraulic fracturing, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources approved Woolsey Operating Company's permit application to drill and operate a horizontal fracking well in White County. The approval of this permit has cost taxpayers thousands of dollars in IDNR staff hand-holding for an energy company and openly catered to the inadequacies of big oil.

Let me walk you through what is one of the most convoluted webs of jobbery.

The application process for obtaining a permit to drill and operate a horizontal fracking well, first and foremost, mandates full transparency. The General Instructions for Completing an HVHFF-10 Permit Application, as cited by IDNR, are clearly outlined, but somehow did not resonate with Woolsey. This is a company that expects Illinoisans to trust them with the state of our environment, the public health of our communities and the strength of our economy.

In Woolsey’s first attempt to apply for a horizontal fracking permit, IDNR responded with a 14-page deficiency letter outlining the most glaring mistakes. However, 14 pages must have been one too many, because it took three more applications and three more deficiency letters before they completed it correctly.

IDNR should be congratulated for their remarkable patience and diligence when pandering to Big Oil. They were so thoughtful that they even neglected to reveal the careless application and deficiencies to the public. IDNR hid Woolsey’s sloppy application for a fracking operation that is known to directly threaten our public health, rapidly deteriorating environment, and local economy.

At the same time, TruFlo Solutions, the injection well company that Woolsey plans to use for their fracking waste disposal, has been cited with four violations including an unpermitted, unlined, open pit which has now leaked oil and fracking waste water across the surrounding community.

Some of us kept close watch of the process and sat tight lipped waiting until the public comment period so we could voice our concerns. But IDNR’s loyalty to Woolsey remained steadfast and they postponed the deadline for public comments and a public hearing by a full month, so we were forced into silence, while Woolsey progressed on their quest to frack Illinois.

When the hearing finally allowed us to use our right to free speech, IDNR upheld their loyalty to Woolsey and sided with them. This was despite environmental advocates, like Food & Water Watch, headlining more than 5,000 comments opposing Woolsey’s application. At the public hearing, the Judge asked IDNR and Woolsey if they would be submitting additional information — they said no. This seemed to be the end of the permit review process.

Instead, a second and third request was then issued by IDNR for additional supplemental information from Woolsey, giving the company leading questions to legally wipe away the most worrisome objections to Woolsey’s application. The requests, along with the supplemental information provided by the company, were never made available to the public. Those who drafted the language of the regulations in 2013 and gave themselves conflated praise about public participation and government transparency should bite their tongues. This lack of transparency is proof that the IDNR doesn't care about public health or the environment.

Horizontal fracking requires hundreds of thousands of gallons of water and a cocktail of hazardous fracking chemicals, many of which are proven carcinogens. The practice often damages nearby land, lowers property values, and has the potential to contaminate drinking water. Moreover, fracking produces massives volumes of toxic and radioactive waste and destabilizes the climate.

"The Compendium of Scientific, Medical and Media Findings Demonstrating the Risks and Harms of Fracking, 4th Edition," now contains more than 900 citations on the risks and harms of fracking.

Illinois People's Action wrote out a 34-point list of application deficiencies, and NRDC, Greater Highland Area Concerned Citizens, Sierra Club, and SAFE produced a 33-page comment submission.

Fracking may have been a controversial practice 10 years ago, but not anymore. Emerging research has proven, without a shadow of a doubt, that the practice is incredibly destructive to public health and the environment for generations to come. Those of us in Southern Illinois, and our peers in the rest of the state, stand to face a lifetime of harm if our elected officials continue to coddle the oil and gas industry.

Tabitha Tripp is on the Board of SAFE, (Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment), the founder of the Shawnee Forest Sentinels and is a council member of the regional network known as Heartwood.

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