Frack Attack in Illinois


Anti-fracking activists in Boulder, Colo., during a recent protest. Photo by Kari Lydersen.

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in our Eco Youth Reporters program, conducted in conjunction with award-winning journalist Kari Lydersen and Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism. The Eco Youth Reporters program is generously funded by the McCormick Foundation:

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in our Urban Youth International Journalism Program, which is generously funded by the McCormick Foundation. – See more at:

The Illinois legislature passed a bill the last week of May that would regulate fracking, the controversial practice for getting natural gas and oil by injecting water and chemicals into shale formations. The bill is being called the strictest package of fracking regulations in the nation. But many people disagree with it. That’s because they think there should be a moratorium or ban on fracking. The bill will become law if Gov. Pat Quinn signs it. Right now there is no fracking in Illinois. But if the bill passes, fracking is expected to start. The bill does have some safeguards but critics say that fracking can never be safe.

Industry, of course, is all for the fracking in Illinois. They say it will bring jobs and needed energy. But concerned activists like Annette McMichael and Beverly Walter disagree with the idea of fracking because they are worried it will cause serious pollution of our drinking water and air. They are backing a proposed bill that would put a moratorium on fracking, which would mean no fracking for the next two years, while more studies are done. That bill was introduced in the state General Assembly by state Senator Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago).

McMichael is a member of Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment (SAFE). She has had personal encounters with industry representatives near her home.

One of the things McMichael is concerned about is a policy called “forced pooling.” “This is very complicated,” McMichael said in an interview. “Forced pooling means that once industry has leased 51 percent of any given area, they can use 100 percent of the area, including everyone who did not sign a lease. I can be arrested for trying to keep them off my own land.”

McMichael had already known about forced pooling, but she was even more intrigued and disturbed when she started to have personal experiences on her own land.

“It had been happening in other states,” she said. “So when the land man contacted me that was my first concern.”

Land men work on behalf of gas and oil companies, convincing residents to sign leases to allow fracking. She said that more than 51 percent of the land has been leased in Johnson County, where she lives, so the companies can use forced pooling.

“Fracking, toxic waste storage, pipelines, anything could happen on my land,” she said. “This was confirmed by the land man when I called about the sample lease. This has been confirmed by two attorneys. And the state’s Attorney General’s office was not able to deny that this was correct.”

I talked to Illinois resident Beverly Walter at an event at the University of Chicago where a journalist reported on fracking in Pennsylvania and Poland. Walter seemed a bit hysterical about the whole idea of fracking. She obviously does not agree with it. She is from the Coalition for a Moratorium on Fracking Investigative Task Force. She thinks there are alternatives to fracking.

“The solution is to be renewable,” she said. “Cut down on meat. Animal products use a lot of energy.”

When Walter heard about the fracking bill in Illinois, she couldn’t take it anymore.

“They’re buying leases already in Illinois,” she said. She thinks natural sites and tourism in Illinois will be hindered if fracking starts in Illinois.

Dr. Lora Chamberlain also attended the University of Chicago event. She doesn’t believe industry promises that fracking will help the economy. She thinks the lease payments to land owners for fracking on their land won’t make much difference for people. She thinks “Americans are chumps” for believing company promises.

“The industry gives us chump change to do what they want,” she said. “The industry thinks we will sell anything including our children” – in other words their health and future well-being, she said. “It’s like taking your mother’s jewelry and expecting the money to last forever….We can’t trade food for gas. We can’t trade water for gas either.”

She also mentioned the risk of earthquakes being caused by fracking, and pointed to a 6.0 earthquake in Italy.

“This is an explosive process,” she said. “Do we really want to industrialize our world? We have to stop burning carbon.”

People around the country are watching the Illinois debate over regulatory and moratorium bills. Fracking has already caused serious problems in other states including Pennsylvania and Colorado, as shown in the movie “Gasland.” For example, residents featured in the documentary are able to light their tap water on fire because of gas that has gotten into it. And they also showed water turning brown after sitting for a couple hours because of contamination. People in the documentary said they are having to buy bottled water, but it is expensive and they feel they should be able to use their tap water.

Cliff Willmeng lives in Lafayette, Colorado, near Weld County which has hundreds of fracking wells. Willmeng is fighting to ban fracking in his town. But on May 21, Boulder County, which includes Lafayette, lifted a moratorium on fracking. Willmeng moved to Colorado from Chicago looking for a healthier place for his kids and now he feels like he’s fighting to protect their health. I interviewed Willmeng by phone.

“I was shocked and awed,” Willmeng said. “I have all types of fear.”

When he moved to Colorado, he knew nothing about fracking. When he found out about it, he said, “I didn’t want to move, I wanted to fight back.”

He added that it is “empirically and scientifically” proven that fracking is a threat.

“Fracking should be banned,” he said. “None of this can be made safe.”

He said two local communities have already banned fracking, and he is working with a group trying to ban it in his town and others.

“We have to create a political force to fight back,” he said.

Residents in Illinois who oppose fracking feel the same way. They are asking the governor to veto the regulatory bill and institute a moratorium on fracking.

“Long-term,” Walter said,“this is totally suicidal.”

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in our Urban Youth International Journalism Program, which is generously funded by the McCormick Foundation. – See more at:
Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in our Urban Youth International Journalism Program, which is generously funded by the McCormick Foundation. – See more at:
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