ENFIELD – In a historic move, regulators from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Department of Oil and Gas Resource Management on Thursday approved the state’s first fracking permit.
Approval of the permit, issued to Wichita, Kansas based Woolsey Operating Company, comes more than four years after former state governor Pat Quinn signed the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act into law, opening the way for the controversial oil-drilling practice to begin in the state of Illinois.
Hydraulic Fracturing, or fracking, is a technique used to enhance the flow of gas from shale formations that are difficult to access due to depth and rock composition.
The process involves the high-pressure injection of 'fracking fluid' into a well to create cracks in deep-rock formations through which natural gas, petroleum, and brine can be extracted.
Proponents of fracking say it supplies needed energy resources and brings with it jobs and economic benefits. Critics say the practice brings with it social, environmental and human health problems.
In July, more than 10,000 public comments from citizens against fracking in Illinois were delivered to the Governor's office in the capital by Food and Water Watch, the Illinois Green Party, the Environmental Defense Fund and Southern Illinoisans against Fracturing our Environment (SAFE) during the public comment period in the application process.
The permit gives Woolsey the green light to complete construction of the well, to be known as Woodrow No. 1H-310408-193, located just north of Enfield in White County.
Woolsey’s combination permit is known as Drill/Operate permit number 065315 and HVHHF permit number HVHHF-000001 and covers the construction, completion, operating, monitoring and reporting requirements for the well.
It also includes conditions the department has determined to be necessary to ensure the goals and requirements of the Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act, the Illinois Oil and Gas Act and their rules are met.
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But Rich Whitney, Vice-Chairman of the Illinois Green Party and SAFE: Southern Illinois Against Fracturing committee member says he is doubtful that the IDNR will be able to keep their part of the bargain.
“After all these year of living with budget cuts there is not the will nor the manpower to properly regulate and address the fracking process and disposal sites,” Whitney said.
Whitney also questioned the process by which the permit was issued.
"The IDNR issued three different deficiency letters to Woolsey about their application for the permit, and the last compliance with it occurred the same day the last deficiency letter was issued, which left the public with no opportunity to comment on or otherwise evaluate the application.”
Whitney also said that the IDNR helped steer Woolsey Energy through countless application deficiencies by basically telling them what they were looking for and how to meet those requirements.
Whitney said that the Green Party, SAFE and other groups are exploring what comes next. He said that could include appealing the IDNR's decision in court through the methods made available to them by the Illinois Administrative Procedures Act.
“I am tempted to paraphrase our President by saying ‘all options are in the table’,”Whitney said.
Both the IDNR and Woolsey Operating Company were unavailable for comment by press time Saturday.