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IMA Energy & Environment Blog

First Permit Application Revives ‘Fracking’ Debate in Illinois

by Tim Landis of The State Journal-Register


The first application for a drilling permit has renewed the fracking debate in Illinois four years after the controversial practice was approved.

Woolsey Companies Inc., based in Wichita, Kan., is seeking permission to drill a mile-deep well near the southeastern Illinois community of Enfield, in White County. A second public comment period on the application is expected after the Illinois Department of Natural Resources found a well-location error in the original filing in May. The application is the first since then-Gov. Pat Quinn signed the state “fracking” law in June 2013.

Regulations were not finalized until November 2014 following an extended fight involving the department, environmentalists and energy companies.

DNR spokesman Tim Schweizer said Monday that Woolsey has indicated the application would be resubmitted with the corrected well location and other project details sought by the agency.

“They are going to resend the application, and that restarts the clock,” said Schweizer. “Other than that, it’s gone pretty smoothly.”

In addition to correcting the location, the department has asked for more information on the operations plan, management of fracking chemicals, well safety and containment measures, traffic management at the site, restoration and topsoil preservation and project security bonds.

Woolsey vice president of business development Mark Sooter said company officials expected the process to take time, especially since Woolsey is the first to apply in Illinois.

“We plan on going forward with the permitting process,” said Sooter. “There are 27 different forms and plans you have to submit, and there were some things we need to correct.”

Fracking has been slow to take off in Illinois as a result of low oil prices that have made it hard for companies to justify the investment in land, equipment, regulatory approval and drilling rights. Fracking relies on high-pressure liquids to release oil and natural gas by fracturing deep-earth shale formations. Woolsey was one of three companies to register for fracking in Illinois after the law was passed. One withdrew voluntarily, and the remaining company has not filed for a permit.

Sooter said, while oil prices remain low, the company concluded there was sufficient potential in White County to file for a drilling permit. He added that results of the first well would determine whether the company seeks approval for more.

“We’ve spent a lot of time and effort and money,” said Sooter. “Once we get the well drilled, it’ll give us a lot better idea of the potential, which we’re confident is good.”

A 30-day public comment period begins seven days after an application is submitted under state rules. Another 15 days are allowed for comments on testimony at the public hearing. DNR has 60 days from the time the application is submitted — including the public comment periods — to make a decision, unless the company asks for an extension. The public comment period on the original application ends Tuesday.

Opponents, meanwhile, have begun preparing their case against the permit.

“This caught us off guard,” said Dawn Dannenbring, environmental coordinator for Illinois Peoples Action. The Bloomington-based community action group fought for a fracking moratorium before the Illinois rules were approved.

Dannenbring said studies of fracking since the Illinois law was enacted show the practice is an even greater threat to water and the environment than first thought.

“Those studies come from all over the world. It’s not just here,” said Dannenbring. “We have a number of comments, based on the current application, ready to go.”

She said fracking opponents also remain concerned about the Illinois approval process, including disclosure of the toxic chemicals used in fracking.

“These things happen way too fast,” said Dannenbring. “It’s up to the public to be daily checking the (online application) site and to be ready.”


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