Fracking question to appear on March ballot
Commissioners to have final say in fight
for local control in debate over fracking
Holding a picture of her grandchildren in one hand and a picture of her cat in the other, Johnson County resident Belinda Halvorsen joined nearly a dozen other local residents in submitting more than 1,000 signatures to place a question opposing hydraulic fracturing on the March ballot.
“I’m here to be their voice,” Halvorsen said, adding that children and animals require responsible people to speak on their behalf. “And we are that voice.”
Halvorsen is part of a growing group of Johnson County residents concerned with the dangers high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing presents, she said. That group collected more than twice the needed number of signatures and submitted their petition to Johnson County clerk Robin Harper-Whitehead Thursday afternoon.
The petition allows the group to place their question on the March ballot; the question reads: “Shall the people’s right to local self-government be asserted by Johnson County to ban corporate fracking as a violation of their rights to health, safety and a clean environment?”
The referendum is non-binding and would only compel the Johnson County commissioners to take action, not require them to do so, community rights coordinator Natalie Long said in an email to the Goreville Gazette Monday. Long said the referendum would do two things: 1) inform the commissioners as to the will of the people regarding the issue of fracking; and 2) empower the commissioners to take action on the issue if that is indeed the will of the people.
“If the commissioners do indeed choose to take a stand against fracking in Johnson County, they could do so by passing a local law prohibiting fracking,” Long said. “To be clear, this would be a binding law that is enforceable at the county level, which would indeed prevent fracking in Johnson County; it would not merely be a political statement voicing opposition.”
Hydraulic fracturing opposition groups formed in Southern Illinois shortly after it was discovered energy companies were leasing mineral rights in the region for the purpose of fracking. In Johnson County, an estimated 195 leases have been signed and several public forums have been held to both educate the public on the ins-and-outs of leasing their land and to debate the practice altogether. The commissioners approved a one-year moratorium on fracking in May after several such debates finalized with a town hall meeting held in Goreville. While that measure was largely symbolic, Long said the commissioners have a “real opportunity” to “reclaim power at the local level.”
This past June the state of Illinois approved legislation in favor of high-volume oil and gas drilling and in doing so said it would create the nation’s strictest regulations to oversee the practice. Illinois’ Department of Natural Resources was given the task to draft those regulations, which are currently under review and open for public debate. Southern Illinois University in Carbondale is scheduled to host one of five such hearings Thursday, Dec. 19, for two hours beginning at 6 p.m. in the Student Center, Ballroom B, with doors opening at 5 p.m.
“We recognize that just because something has been legalized by the State, that does not necessarily mean the action is legitimate,” Long said, noting past actions by the State legalized slavery and denied women the right to vote.
“Was slavery permitted, even encouraged by our government? Yes. Does that mean it was a legitimate practice? No.”
Long said it is the same question faced by the community today.
“Is it legal to frack our community? Yes. Is it legitimate? No, if that is not the will of the community.”
If the referendum passes in March and the commissioners adopted a measure banning fracking in the county, Long said it is likely the act would be challenged by the State and corporations seeking access to drill in Johnson County.
“We know that if we do nothing, we’ll get fracked. And we know that if we stick to just working with the fracking regulations that are currently taking place at the IDNR hearings, we’ll still get fracked, the regulations recognize that fracking has been legalized, and that it is an activity that will inevitably occur,” Long said.
“So, if we as a community decide that fracking is a harm that is incompatible with the character of our community, then we must act in this fashion and prohibit it at the local level.”