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June 2012
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DRILL BABY Residents have spoken on Johnson 'fracking'

Perhaps the worst thing about the hydraulic fracturing process that revolutionized oil and gas drilling in the U.S. is its nickname: "fracking." It just sounds like something bad.

And certainly environmentalists whose goal is to block any further development of domestic oil and gas reserves have seized on that. So we are glad to see that in Tuesday's Illinois vote a vocal and well-organized campaign to pass a referendum to ban fracking in Johnson County failed by a wide margin.

The disingenuously worded ballot question asked, "Shall the people's right to self-government be asserted by Johnson County to ban corporate fracking as a violation of their rights to health, safety and a clean environment?" It failed by a vote of 1,692 for, 2,223 opposed. That translates to a 14 percent margin of defeat, which is pretty decisive in any election.

The fracking opponents say they will fight on, in court one would presume, and that, unfortunately, has become the M.O. of the environmental movement in job-hungry regions like Johnson County.

But without the energy boom fueled over the past decade by hydraulic fracturing we would still be mired in the depths of the Great Recession. No other domestic industry has created more jobs or brought more development to previously distressed regions than energy. The hydraulic fracturing process has allowed old resource fields to be made productive again. It also has allowed oil and gas to be extracted from more difficult formations that could not be developed profitably in the past.

The spinoffs have been huge. Ohio steel plants that were on the brink of extinction found new life producing pipe needed for the horizontal drilling process that complements hydraulic fracturing's effectiveness. Welders are earning six figures annually amid the crush of pipeline projects underway to move a glut of oil and gas from newly developed fields to refineries and storage facilities. And every American has and long will see lower costs for heating their homes and driving their cars due to the sudden abundance of domestic oil and gas.

Southern Illinois is now coming into play in the energy boom because of its location atop the New Albany Shale formation. Typically, the deepest shale deposits are the most productive, and that has brought 17 southern Illinois counties into focus. Significant oil deposits are thought to exist 5,000 feet or more below the surface there.

Regionally the greatest interest has been in Johnson County, where 188 oil and gas leases were filed in the county clerk's office in less than six months in 2013. Pope County also is seeing a fair level of interest, with 24 filings there during the same period.

That activity naturally attracted the environmentalists, who claim that fracking threatens groundwater, creates traffic and noise and generally uglies up the scenery. The EPA itself has intensely studied the groundwater issue and concluded that done properly, hydraulic fracturing does not threaten contamination of groundwater. EPA also closely regulates other emissions caused by drilling work at hydraulic fracturing sites.

The reality is that hydraulic fracturing is a potential economic boon to what has traditionally been an economically distressed region of Illinois. The benefits of developing shale resources in that area could be enormous - for workers, property owners, local governments, and anyone in the business of supplying businesses.

A large majority of Johnson County residents recognize that, and they voted accordingly. We think they made the right decision.

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