Johnson County to hold public forum on fracking
The Johnson County commissioners agreed Monday to host a public forum in an attempt to hear from both sides of the argument over the debate on hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.
No date has been set, but the commissioners agreed to work with the University of Illinois Extension office in Vienna to coordinate a time, place and moderator.
Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment (SAFE) spokeswoman Annette McMichael welcomed the commissioners commitment to the public forum and spoke before the board Monday afternoon saying the counties of Hardin and Union have both signed letters in support of a statewide moratorium.
McMichael asked if Johnson County would also sign a letter in support of a statewide moratorium, which drew some debate at Monday’s meeting.
“I have been following this whole fracking situation and I don’t understand why we wouldn’t put a moratorium in place,” Johnson County resident and landowner Beverly Hartig said at the commissioner’s meeting Monday.
Hartig said she was concerned of the long-term effects on the land brought on by the hydraulic fracturing process, adding that her property relies on well water that she recently spent $15,000 to ensure its quality would meet the standards necessary for her two special-needs children.
“What about our future? What about our children’s children,” Hartig asked as she requested the commissioners to consider their support of a moratorium.
Another Johnson County resident and landowner attending Monday’s meeting, who said he is also concerned for the future of Johnson County’s environment but did not speak out at the meeting, said he had concerns over the reality of Illinois’ capabilities to regulate the oil and gas industry.
“The number of well inspectors for Southern Illinois may only be one person,” Johnson County landowner Tim Werner said. Werner said he worked for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for 34 years and said he realizes that in difficult economic times the prospect of new industry is inviting. “The big thing is, is that we are all stewards of the land. We don’t really own it [and] we can’t take it when we leave.”
Werner, who did not say he opposed hydraulic fracturing, said that it is important for Johnson County to protect its natural beauty and did question whether or not the immediate financial gains were worth the possible long-term environmental impact brought on by fracking.
Chairman Jeff Mears and commissioner Ernie Henshaw both agreed that the process does require more time to consider its impact and slowing it down with a moratorium is acceptable. Mears said the commissioners would look at signing a letter in support of a moratorium at the next county commissioner’s meeting, only that the letter needed to be drafted by Johnson County’s own state’s attorney and not anyone else.
“I do have concerns over the water resources required for the process,” Mears said, “But it is not our place to tell landowners what they can or cannot do on their property as long as it’s legal.”
Signing a letter in support of a moratorium would not actually halt the process in Johnson County, said SAFE spokeswoman McMichael, “but it would send a message to Springfield that the communities of Southern Illinois are not in a hurry to see their landscape change dramatically overnight without further research first.”
The probability of hydraulic fracturing in Johnson County is fairly high as more than 200 mineral rights are already leased with the intent of fracking in the county.
University of Illinois County Extension director Jody Johnson was present at Monday’s meeting and said sometime in the next three months a well is possibly going into place somewhere in northern Illinois.
If allowed, hydraulic fracturing could take off fairly quick in Johnson County, Johnson said of the amount of time it takes to get started.
Johnson said the Extension office encourages debate and its primary responsibility is to offer unbiased information to allow people to make their own educated opinions.
In August of last year the extension office hosted an educational workshop entitled, “Leasing Farmland for Oil and Gas Production,” which was well attended and was not out to debate the pros and cons of the fracking process itself, but rather provide a forum, in which people could use to start their own research and come to their own conclusions, the Gazette reported at the time.
The debate over fracking at public forums in neighboring Williamson and Jackson Counties were reported as heated and sometimes argumentative and the commissioners said they did not wish to repeat that process here.
Johnson County Economic Developer Ron Duncan, who was present at Monday’s meeting, said that the best thing Johnson County can do is to present the facts and allow the individual to decide.