Fracking: a luxury that may not last


Reporter- Briana Conner
Photographer- David Dycus

FAULKNER COUNTY, Ar.— In one year, fracking directly funneled more than 175 million dollars into the economies of six central Arkansas counties when the price of natural gas hit its height.  The controversial method used to release oil and natural gas from shale formations is beginning to move into southern Illinois. There are two things everyone involved in this industry has to deal with: supply and demand. That eventually dictates how much money the industry can pump into a local economy.

In 2007, the commercial price of natural gas was about $11.30 per thousand cubic feet. The price eventually hit $12.23 in 2008, before spiraling down to $8.13 by 2012. That's a $3.21 decline, but people who rely on this industry for their livelihoods say the difference is much more drastic.

They call it the best breakfast spot in town. Though there's plenty of biscuits, gravy, and oatmeal at The Wagon Wheel in Faulkner County, waitress Lavonda Ruple said, lately, they haven't had as many customers. "We're not as Busy this year as we were five years ago. Just recently it's moved moved out a lot, the gas and oil has. So, we really miss that business," she said. The restaurant sits along the main vein that leads out into the fields where some people, used to getting a bite on the way in to work, now sit and search the want ads. Brooke Mason said, "My dad got laid off. Now he's at a point where it's hard for him to find any other work, because that's all that was here."

Demand is down, and people who live in Faulkner County said they can see the signs of decline. "When the industry leaves, they just leave ghost towns," said Mason. The industry comes in and out, on 18 wheels, and was described by one activist as a luxury that doesn't last. April Lane said, "Are the people of Arkansas who are now putting all their eggs in this basket... Are they gonna be okay after it's gone? I fear the answer is probably gonna be no."

Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson said despite the prices, planning makes economic security possible. "If done properly, it can benefit the community forever." That's something the state highway and transportation department is trying to figure out how to do. Director Scott Bennett said they are spending their entire budget fixing the roads that lead to the oil fields, and it's still not enough. "Because it's not bringing in the revenue projected and because of the damage in the Fayetteville Shale region, we are spending all of that money in the Fayetteville Shale region."

It's an example of a few concerns that's growing over an industry with the power to put food on tables, or leave them empty. "This is my hometown. What's it gonna look like after they're gone," asked Lane.

Fracking itself is actually one of the reasons the price of natural gas is so low. The method makes it easy and inexpensive to collect, helping increase supply while demand is still down.

The U.S. Geological Survey believes that Illinois' New Albany shale may hold one trillion to eight trillion cubic feet of natural gas.