ENFIELD — As the dust settles in the controversial battle to issue the first high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing permit in Illinois, people in Enfield, where the first operational well will begin production, are waiting to see what drilling will bring to their community.
The permit was issued Aug. 31 by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to Kansas based Woolsey Operating Company,
Enfield, population 625, is a village in White county which, like many other Southern Illinois towns, saw its fortunes rise and fall along with the coal industry.
According to Enfield Village President Tom Harbour, this predisposes residents to be open to new oil and gas exploration in the region.
“I would say people here at 99 percent in favor of the project. Do they have concerns? Yes. But they have also read up on fracking, including some of the studies out there. And those studies seem to be split in their opinion about the process,” Harbour said.
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.
Advocates of fracking say it supplies needed energy resources and brings with it jobs and economic benefits. Detractors say the practice brings with it social, environmental and human health problems.
When regulators from the IDNR Department of Oil and Gas Resource Management approved Woolsey’s application to perform operations on the Woodrow #1H-310408-193 well, they did so over the objections of many.
In July, more than 10,000 public comments from citizens against fracking in Illinois were delivered to Governor Bruce Rauner'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.
But residents in Enfield are taking a wait and see attitude.
Harbor said that he worked for 33 years at the Pattiki mine in Carmi, which suspended operation in Nov. 2016, and that experience influenced his views about the Woosley project.
“I think the operations are a lot safer than people who came here to protest indicated. At Pattiki we dug at 880 feet. Fracking is done at a depth of about 5,600 feet, so we worked at a much shallower depth and I haven’t heard a complaint about the water around here in 33 years,” Harbor said.
Harbor, said Enfield gets its water from the Rend Lake Conservancy District and has two water towers that service approximately 250 customers.
“I plan on driving past the drill site at least once a day to check on things. And the farmers in the surrounding countryside will also keep an eye on what’s happening out there. If something gets out of line, we will know about it,” Harbour said.
The bottom line, Harbour said, is that Woolsey’s presence in town will help the economy.
“Woolsey may not be a huge employer to begin with, but they will bring people who eat here, live here, recreate here, and buy their fuel here and we look forward to that,” Harbour said.
Mark Sooter, vice president of business development for Woolsey Operating Company Energy said the company is excited about the permit approval.
“This is a really positive moment for us. We have been working toward this for six years so it is a culmination of some really hard work on the part of a lot of people,” Sooter said.
Sooter said that the operation of the well in Enfield is definitely part of an exploratory stage.
“We will use this well to evaluate production techniques, volume and financial cost. We will keep a close eye on how much it is producing, and the price of oil. If we decide to go forward we have mapped out a good sized area to drill other wells,” Sooter said.
According to Sooter, Woolsey hopes to conclude construction of the well by the end of 2017, and is aiming for operations to begin sometime during the first quarter of 2018.
When asked about Woolsey’s intentions to employ local people, Sooter said current Woolsey energy employees will manage the drilling and completion process.
“But then, as we move forward, we will contract with local service companies for the major portion of the work. We want to hire local people as much as possible. If there are not enough local service companies, then we will have to look outside the region, but the intention is there to use local folks,” Sooter said.
“People around here really want Woolsey to succeed,” Harbour said.
But the battle for the well at Enfield may not yet be settled.
Rich Whitney, Vice-Chairman of the Illinois Green Party and SAFE committee member in a previous report said opponent groups are exploring 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.