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Welcome to another edition of the EAC Action News, a publication of the Ecology Action Center.  The EAC is a central resource for environmental education, information, and outreach in McLean County. This newsletter serves as a resource for YOU. If you have questions that you need answered or suggestions for content, please let us know!


What's the Fuss about Fracking?

By Caitlin Perry, EAC Intern

What is hydraulic fracturing?
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, is a process used to extract natural gas or oil from 

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layers of  shale rock located deep within the Earth. Vertical and horizontal wells, which are lined with cement to create a barrier between the incoming liquids and the surrounding ground and water, are drilled into the ground. A perforating gun blows through the cement walls of the wells, 

creating holes into the shale.

A mixture of water, chemicals, and sand is injected into the ground and goes into the holes. The intense pressure of the injected liquid, known as fracking fluid, creates fractures in the rocks. The fractures create pores where the natural gas can escape. Once the gas is extracted, the fracking fluid is pushed back to the surface of the well.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, natural gas “is one of the cleanest burning alternative fuels.” Natural gas produces less greenhouse gas emissions and smog pollutants when burned, and most of the gas is produced domestically in the United States. Although natural gas has the potential of being a greener alternative to our fuel needs, the hydraulic fracturing process that extracts the gas can have damaging effects to the environment, specifically to the quality of water and air. Hydraulic fracturing uses millions of gallons of water throughout the drilling and gas harvesting process, and hundreds of harmful chemicals are injected into the wells creating a chance for the surrounding air and ground to become polluted.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency is currently working with companies to ensure that the natural gas extraction does not damage the environment or the health of the public. Potential impacts of the hydraulic fracturing process that are listed on the EPA’s website include:

  • Stress on surface water and ground water supplies from the withdrawal of large volumes of water used in drilling and hydraulic fracturing;
  • Contamination of underground sources of drinking water and surface waters resulting from spills, faulty well construction, or by other means;
  • Adverse impacts from discharges into surface waters or from disposal into underground injection wells;
  • Air pollution resulting from the release of volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants, and greenhouse gases.


Federal Regulations
Hydraulic fracturing remains a controversial process because of the potential for harmful chemicals to be

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 released into the air and surrounding water supplies. Hundreds of chemicals are combined with water to create the fracking fluid that is injected into the ground. Most of these chemicals have been linked to serious health problems, and using them can consequentially damage the health of plants, animals, and humans. There are numerous cases of water becoming contaminated and residents getting sick after fracking takes place near their home.


Another source of controversy lies in the regulations, or lack thereof, that are placed on fracking. The Safe Drinking Water Act, which was passed by Congress in 1974, is a federal law that protects groundwater and ensures that all public water systems in the United States produce safe drinking water.
In 2005, the Halliburton Loophole, an amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act, was passed. This amendment excluded fracking from the definition of banned underground injections. This allowed oil and gas companies to be exempt from following the regulations in the Act. In turn, oil and gas companies do not have to publicly list the chemicals used in their fracking fluid or report to officials to ensure that groundwater is not being polluted.


In 2009, the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act was proposed to Congress. This act would repeal the exemption of fracking in the Safe Drinking Water Act, regulate oil and natural gas extractions, and require companies to disclose a list of chemicals used in the fracking process. In January 2011, Congress adjourned and did not make a decision regarding the FRAC Act, and it was reintroduced in March 2011. Currently, Congress has still not made any decision regarding this act.


State/Local Regulations
While Illinois does not have any laws regarding hydraulic fracturing, state bill 3280 was passed by the 

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Senate in April 2012. This proposed bill amends the Illinois Oil and Gas Act to include regulations regarding fracking. In this amendment, the operator of the fracking company would have to perform a mechanical integrity test to see that the fracking process will not damage any underground water sources. The operator would then have to report to officials within 30 days with all requested information. A list of chemicals used in the fracking fluids would be required to be posted on specified websites, and amounts, handling, and disposal of the fuel used would need to be reported to officials. No aspect of the fracking process would be exempt from inspection. After the Senate passed the bill in April, it went to the House where it has not yet been passed.


Currently, McLean County has regulations regarding oil and gas drilling, which are found in the McLean County Zoning Ordinance. These regulations, however, do not specifically regulate hydraulic fracking. Those who want to drill for oil and gas must get a special permit from the County and are therefore required to follow the regulations put in place for special permit holders. Under the regulations of a special permit, the activity of oil and gas companies cannot:

  • be detrimental to or endanger the health, safety, morals, comfort, or welfare of the public;
  • be injurious to the use and enjoyment of other property in the immediate vicinity;
  • diminish property values in the immediate area.

There is some discussion going on about loosening the restrictions for acquiring special permits for  hydraulic fracturing in McLean County. Critics of the current restrictions say that they deter drilling companies from applying for permits because of how complicated the process is. With more lenient restrictions, more drilling companies may be attracted to the area and begin the hydraulic fracturing process.


While some may argue that fracking in McLean County will help bring high paying jobs to the area, or help to produce natural gas that could ease our dependency on foreign oil, we have to consider the cost. Fracking has the potential to pollute our air and water supply with hundreds of chemicals, which can lead to serious health problems. With no state regulations in place for fracking, drilling companies would not be required to publicly list the chemicals used or go through many tests to ensure that their process is not polluting groundwater or the surrounding areas. Millions of gallons of water are used throughout the fracking process, and any water that is extracted after the process is highly contaminated. Homes near the fracking sites would likely be exposed to toxic fumes and contaminants in the soil, and over time experience a decrease in their property value from having a drilling site in their backyard.


Our community has done so much to provide for a safe and healthy environment; allowing unregulated fracking in our area would be a significant step backward from the progress that has been made. Is our clean water less important than drilling for gas?


SOURCES

 

EPA on Fracking
http://www.epa.gov/hydraulicfracture/#providing

FRAC Bill
http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/111/s1215

SB 3280 
http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/BillStatus.asp?DocNum=3280&GAID=11&DocTypeID=SB&SessionID=84&GA=97

Illinois Oil and Gas Act
http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=1391&ChapterID=24

McLean Zoning Ordinance
http://www.mcleancountyil.gov/DocumentView.aspx?DID=45



Water, Water, Nowhere to be Seen

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There’s no arguing that we’re in a drought.  In fact, according to Wednesday’s Pantagraph (”Politicians 

worry as drought worsens across IL”), we have seen the driest six months in Illinois for any year on record.  Bloomington’s treatment system of surface water is starting to strain due to increased consumption, while impact on the groundwater supplies by Normal and other communities in the region using the Mahomet Aquifer is unknown.  At the very least, it can be assumed that as with Lake Bloomington and Evergreen Lake, the recharge rate of the aquifer is significantly reduced as long as we have no rain.


While no usage restrictions are yet in place, change in our water consumption practices may already be long overdue.  There is absolutely no way of knowing when rain will return to refill the lakes or recharge the aquifer, yet the longer the drought continues, the more water we consume.  But we need to keep in mind that the water resources for both Bloomington and Normal are in fact finite and we can take steps now to reduce problems in the short or long term.


First and foremost – we can stop watering lawns; this goes for residents and businesses both.  Grass has

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 a natural ability to go dormant during dry periods and revive when rain returns.  Yes, they will brown up, but which is more important, green grass or an adequate supply of drinking water? 


Secondly, water those things that need it more efficiently.  Soaker hoses, drip irrigation, or direct watering of individual plants are much more effective than sprinklers for watering vegetables or young trees.  Over spraying and watering the street or sidewalk is just plain wasteful.


Finally, we need to rethink landscaping in the big picture.  By utilizing rain barrels, natural fertilizers and pest deterrents, and favoring low-resource native plants for landscaping over high-resource turf grass, we can decrease our consumption of tap-water while also decreasing the amount of storm water pollutants in our drinking water supplies.  This is of course what the EAC’s Yard Smart program is all about; making our yards more sustainable for the good of our families and our community.  More information is available at www.yardsmart.org or by calling the Ecology Action Center at 309-454-3169.

 


Coming Clean: Water Companies Call Industry to Account

By Clare Howard 

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. –  Now in its eighth year of litigation, a lawsuit playing out in small, rural Madison County Circuit Court in Southern Illinois could set a costly, possibly game-changing, precedent for chemical manufacturers: agrichemical giants whose products spread beyond their initial targets could be responsible for the price of cleanup.

Some 22 water providers in Illinois are suing Syngenta Crop Protection Inc., a subsidiary of Swiss-based Syngenta AG. They are demanding that the cost of removing atrazine from drinking water, estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars, be shifted from the water providers and the public to Syngenta.

As the lawsuit unfolds, it is also parting the curtain on aggressive tactics the agrichemical industry has used to seemingly harass and intimidate scientists, and to manipulate information available to the public.

Syngenta AG had global annual sales of $11.6 billion in 2010, and maintains that agricultural chemicals are not dangerous if applied within government-approved safety guidelines.

Its weed killer atrazine is one of the most popular herbicides in the United States, with 76 million pounds applied each year...Read the rest of the article at 100Reporters. 

Clare Howard is a freelance reporter from Peoria. She wrote this series of articles for 100Reporters which was made possible through a George Polk Investigative Reporting grant funded by the Ford Foundation.  Reprinting excerpts by the Ecology Action Center done with permission from 100Reporters.


McLean County HHW Fund Closes in on Target

It has been nearly five years since our last HHW Collection Event which drew over 2,000 households with 18,000 gallons of hazardous material collected.  The EAC gets calls on a daily basis from concerned residents wanting to safely dispose of their HHW. State funding is not available to hold a HHW Collection Event in McLean County. In response to the community's need to safely dispose of HHW, the EAC is 
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spearheading a private/public partnership to fund a local HHW Collection Event. 

As of mid July, the Ecology Action Center has raised over two-thirds of the $150,000 needed for a September Household Hazardous Waste Event!  

While we are nearing the goal, we need your help to make this event a reality for our community.  Please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to the HHW Fund.  Contributions can be made by credit card through the EAC website  or by mail.  Please make checks out to the Ecology Action Center and make a note designating your contribution for the HHW Fund.  Mail your donation to:

Ecology Action Center
Attn: HHW Fund
202 W College Ave
Normal, IL  61761



McLean County HHW Fund Sponsors

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Businesses and other entities: we are offering sponsorship options which can help increase the visibility of your support for this important community event.  For more information, contact Michael Brown.


As always, we look forward to seeing you at the Ecology Action Center! Please stop by anytime Monday - Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or call us at (309) 454-3169 for information on our latest programs and events or to get answers to questions on recycling, household hazardous waste, clean water, and more!

The Ecology Action Center is a not-for-profit walk-in information and environmental education center with a mission to inspire and assist residents of McLean County in creating, strengthening and preserving a healthy environment. EAC acts as a central resource for environmental education, information, and outreach in McLean County. 
www.ecologyactioncenter.org

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