Fracking in Illinois
I have received thoughtful responses to my “Open Letter to Illinois Environmentalists about Fracking Legislation” on May 10, 2013. Many wondered why I disagreed with some of my good friends in Illinois who are pursuing legislation that will regulate horizontal hydraulic fracking. They deserve an answer. I recognize the palpable fear that without legislation, horizontal fracking will proceed willy-nilly. I disagree with my dear friends who are working for regulation and ask them to join me in resisting this piece of legislation. I ask because:
1) Industry needs regulations more than environmentalists do. Notice, industry didn’t oppose the legislation. “Dead Giveaway,” in the words of Charles Ramsey, Ohio hero.
2) Illinois is part of a larger political ecology and other States’ decisions on fracking ride on what Illinois decides. If Illinois stands firm against fracking, other states gain support in their efforts to resist the degradation that has happened in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. New York and California are paying close attention to what Illinois does with this piece of legislation.
3) The legislation instituting regulations is just the beginning of a cascade of a legislation orchestrated by the fossil fuel industry. Most future legislation will restrict right to know, landowner protections, and liability for clean air and clean water. Future legislation will piggy-back on this regulatory bill and claim additional protections for the industry on the basis of trade secrets and other things that are “necessary” for jobs and the economy.
4) We just reached 400 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We are headed towards catastrophe with our reliance on fossil fuels. We have to start somewhere and say “no”.
5) Speaking of pollution levels, the nitrate levels in Iowa’s rivers reached an all-time high this week. Natural gas is the precursor to the fertilizers that washed off Midwest fields and create the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
6) In the 1990’s, I was on a three person commission that was charged with deciding whether a site in Illinois was suitable for a low-level radioactive waste facility. A former Illinois Supreme Court justice, the former dean of Civil Engineering at University of Illinois, and I voted unanimously that the site was not suitable for a disposal facility. We were called baby killers, and worse, for our decision. The federal government hired Battelle Memorial Institute to investigate our decision. Eighty two million dollars had been spent on the siting process. But our decision stood. We had the best siting criteria (no shallow land burial!) and the most radioactive waste. We set a remarkable precedent by saying no. And to date, no new low-level radioactive waste facility has taken waste in the United States. Did our decision change federal policy? Sure. Was it the only thing? No. What could not have been predicted is how medical technology evolved in a very short time and reduced the total amount of low-level radioactive waste that required disposal. Medical waste had been the decoy for the nuclear power industry and all of their waste. Let me repeat, to date, no new low-level radioactive waste facility has been opened in the United States. Yes, our decision was exceptionally difficult. I thought my career was over when I voted with my two colleagues.
7) Speaking of radioactive waste, it appears that waste from fracking is often radioactive and proving difficult to manage.
8) Clean and abundant water is a central legacy we must leave to Future Generations. Fracking is one of the greatest threats to water in the history of humanity.
9) Southern Illinois is earthquake prone because it is in the territory of the New Madrid fault. Earthquakes seem to be set off by fracking.
10) As I mentioned in my first letter, it is wishful thinking to depend on regulation in a state where enforcement is invisible, backlogged and impoverished.
For all of these reasons, I oppose the Illinois legislation that attempts to regulate horizontal fracking. I ask that you stand with me for the sake of the planet and future generations.