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Vito A. Mastrangelo: No need to rush into fracking

Environmental group members show support inside Capitol rotundan effort pressure lawmakers for two-year moratorium hydraulic fracturing commonly known as fracking

Environmental group members show support inside the Capitol rotunda in an effort to pressure lawmakers for a two-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday, March 12, 2013, in Springfield, Ill. The activists oppose a House measure that would allow the practice for the first time in Illinois, a proposal that has wide industry support. Environmentalists who helped draft the proposed regulations say they would be the nation's toughest. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman) ORG XMIT: ILSP104

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Updated: April 16, 2013 3:44PM

Imagine this conversation.

My neighbor asks, “What are you doing?”

I respond, “I’m drilling deep holes in my land and then, using very high pressure, filling them with a mixture of millions of gallons of water and thousands of gallons of chemicals, some of which are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. Some of the holes might even reach under your land and other neighbors’ land, too.”

“Why would you do that?”

“To get oil and natural gas and make money.”

“Can we clean the water afterward?”


“How will you get all that water here?”

“Large trucks will use the county roads to bring in the water, chemicals, silica sand and other materials.”

“All that water during drought conditions?”


“Will this process pollute the air?”

“It releases methane, which is about 20 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.”

“What happens to the fracking mixture afterward?”

“Some of it stays in the ground, and what comes back up is injected into new holes in the ground.”



“When this mixture comes back up, is it radioactive?”


“But there are two earthquake zones in our area and we are overdue for a major earthquake. Won’t a big quake cause that fluid mix to leak into our water and soil?”

“I don’t worry about that.”

This specific conversation is fictional, but the process described is not. It is called horizontal hydraulic fracking, and some State of Illinois officials are promoting it. If allowed, fracking could take place in thousands of locations throughout Southern Illinois. Current fracking methods are dangerous and will adversely affect citizens’ health.

The state has put many citizens in jails and mental institutions for conduct far less egregious. But the state is in dire financial straits, and politicians are desperate for the oil and gas industry’s money.

One fracking well pad can support a vertical well and at least eight horizontal well bores, and each horizontal lateral can be a mile long or longer. Initially, a well pad can take up six acres. The pumps and compressor stations are noisy, running 24/7.

Well casings leak and fail, some sooner, some later. More than 1,000 cases of water contamination have been documented near fracking and drilling sites in the United States. In North Dakota alone, by one estimate, natural gas flares produce the same amount of global warming pollution as 2.5 million cars.

Current fracking methods use known carcinogens, like benzene, naphthalene and formaldehyde, and fracking pulls up radium from the ground. The Colorado School of Public Health determined that cancer, neurological and respiratory disease risks are greater for residents living close to fracking wells, due to exposure to the various air contaminants released near well sites.

When the industry says it’s “safe,” think about the fox telling the farmer that his chicken coop is safe.

On Feb. 7, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency conducted an earthquake drill. In Southern Illinois, we are overdue for a major earthquake. Illinois House bill 2615, sponsored by state Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion), suffers from many inadequacies, and the risk of a major earthquake in Southern Illinois is not addressed at all in the bill.

Once fracking happens, we cannot undo it.

Allowing fracking with current methods is reckless.

New York State will wait for the new $1 million study by the Geisinger Health System of Pennsylvania before lifting its moratorium on fracking.

Illinois House Bill 3086 and Senate Bill 1418 would create an independent Task Force to study fracking and report to the legislature and establish a two-year moratorium in the meantime.

Better safe than sorry.

Vito A. Mastrangelo, a lawyer in Mt. Vernon, is a member of the steering committee of SAFE (Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing the Environment).

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