Fracking: A big business that changes small communities

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Reporter - Briana Conner
Photographer - David Dycus

CONWAY COUNTY, Ar. - A new industry is getting ready to invade southern Illinois. The discovery of The New Albany Shale has oil and gas companies eyeing the region for fracking.

Fracking is a process that involves wells that drill vertically and then horizontally into the ground. The wells bring up oil and natural gas by pumping water and chemicals down into tight rock formations. Trucks haul the frack water away to disposal sites or injection wells… that pump it deep underground.

About 10 years ago, fracking took off in a part of Arkansas that was a lot like southern Illinois: small, rural, and quiet. The industry changed the area, and people who live there say it will do the same thing to southern Illinois.

There is plenty of renovation at the home of The Redhawks. Kids who go there have a new middle school, high school, library, and music building.

The Nemo Vista School District in Conway County is doing it all without borrowing a dime. "It's been a blessing to us," said Superintendent Cody Beene.
 
Beene said fracking increased the money the district gets from property taxes by 900 percent. "It's just enabled us to do a lot of things without incurring any debt and without going to our tax payers."

In neighboring Faulkner County, waitresses at The Wagon Wheel say fracking has boosted their business. "Half of the people who come in here are regulars, and I'd say the other half is probably with gas and oil," said LaVonda Ruple, "We've been busier here than we have been in a long time."

County Judge Allen Dodson said there probably isn't a place in town that hasn't seen more money since the industry moved in. "Restaurants, clothing stores, all the sales tax… Your county, cities, and your state are gonna benefit from an increased tax base." The counties in The Fayetteville Shale area are also benefiting from a low unemployment rate. "These are well-paying jobs you're talking about," said Chamber of Commerce President Brandon Baker.

About 21,000 people live in Conway County. 1,500 of them work in oil and gas. "The additional payroll has allowed mom and dad to buy their children better things. It may even give them the opportunity to go to college, where as they may not have had that," said Baker. According to him, fracking funneled $301 million into Conway County's economy last year. "That is royalty payments, charitable contributions, payroll, and I know that number is conservative," he said.

It's a big business with the power to change small communities, some say, for the better.
 

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