Fracking: The ugly side of the business

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Photographer - David Dycus
Reporter - Briana Conner

FAULKNER COUNTY, Ill. - The stage is set for oil and gas companies to start fracking in southern Illinois. The industry has created jobs and boosted small town economies all over the U.S. where there's viable shale for drilling, but some say there is an ugly side to the business.

Most of the major concerns are environmental. Arkansas is a state that experienced earthquakes related to fracking. Also, a lot of people don't like being exposed to the chemicals and emissions that come along with the process. There is also a group of people who own property and homes, but don't own the mineral rights. That means they can't stop the industry from drilling on their land. Lastly, infrastructure issues. Many of these small, rural communities have roads that were not designed for an industry that moves on 18 wheels. These are all battles that are still being fought now ten years later in that area, and people say southern Illinois will have their own set of similar struggles too.

It's no surprise The Natural State has natural resources under its soil, but bringing them to the surface has been a big issue for some people who call Arkansas home. Anti-fracking activist April Lane said, "Communities like ours have been kind of the test, and we know we haven't passed the test. We know people are being drastically impacted." Lane is part of a group that wants the state government to step in and study how the drilling is impacting people who live in the Fayetteville Shale area. She said, "We worry about children, pregnant women, the elderly... those vulnerable populations of people who are exposed chronically to these emissions."

A symptom that showed up immediately: deteriorating roads and bridges. "It's horrible to drive around here," said Brooke Mason. She drives to work every day in-between 18 wheelers and says she's had to deal with constant construction caused by the oil and gas industry. "They've redone our highway several times since that started."

Scott Bennett with The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department said,  "The roads aren't as wide as they should be to handle that kind of traffic, or as thick or strong as they should be." It takes 3,000 truck trips to drill a frack well and get it into production according Bennett. It's traffic rural roads weren't designed to handle. "I'd say it's been the biggest growing pain from the production of natural gas in this region," Bennett said.

The fast-action nature of the industry didn't give many government officials time to catch up. Other people felt the boom, literally, in their living rooms. Mason said, "I've lived here since I was nine years old... never felt an earth quake until that happened." Geologist Scott Ausbrooks said at its height, there were dozens of earthquakes every day. "It went from a novelty to a nuisance, and when the 4.7 happened, that's when people got scared."

The injection wells linked to those quakes have since been shut down, but there are places where more permanent reminders of the industry sit on people's land who aren't earning a dime in royalties. Lane said, "You have a population of residents who don't want the activity on their property, yet it's forced on then anyway. That's a pretty big civil rights issue."

These are a few problems that come with a package shipped in on 18 wheels forever changing the land and peoples lives. "It is definitely a double edged sword," said Mason.

All the legislation needed to start fracking in southern Illinois' New Albany Shale has been passed. Campbell Energy has already filed for a permit to drill one well in White county.

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