Highland News Leader

Helvetia Township trustees take no action on proposed fracking ordinance

Acting on the advice of their attorney, the Helvetia Township trustees took no action last week on a proposed fracking ordinance.

Last month, the Great Highland Area Concerns Citizens (GHACC) had asked the trustees to ban horizontal hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, and even had legal counsel draw up a draft ordinance for the township to consider enacting.

However, Don Johannes, Helvetia Township’s attorney, told the trustees they had only “limited power” when it comes to stopping the high-volume oil and gas drilling technique.

“There are also a number of things in GHACC’s proposed ordinance that I find troubling,” Johannes said.

Fracking generally uses a mixture of water, chemicals and sand to crack rock formations deep underground and release trapped oil and gas. Opponents fear it can cause air and water pollution and health problems, though industry officials contend the method is safe.

Johannes said GHACC’s proposed ordinance would also result in the township violating the state’s fracking law.

Instead, Johannes suggested to the GHACC that they share their concerns with county and state officials, who’d have say on the matter.

He said the the ordinance, as it was written, might be subject to litigation from the state and/or fracking companies.

About 20 GHACC members, including Steve Safford, attended the Helvetia Township meeting on Nov. 3.

Safford said afterward the meeting “went as expected.”

“That was expected as this inaction was telegraphed from previous meetings,” he said.

Stafford said the GHACC will brainstorm possible paths to follow in the coming weeks.

“We will consider the need for further citizen education and reactions,” he said. “We will weigh the costs of exercising our constitutional rights to protect citizens from harms caused by the fracking activity versus the costs of litigation and other possible costs to the community.”

But Stafford said GHACC has certainly “not declared the issue dead.”

“We most probably will seek guidance from groups that have similar experiences,” he said.

Fracking in Illinois

In June 2013, Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law what Johannes considered the strictest rules for fracking.

After that law passed, the DNR was required to develop its own regulations to be able to enforce the law through their Office of Oil and Gas Resource Management (OOGRM).

However, with the falling price of oil, DNR has yet to issue a permit for fracking.

To gear up for fracking, the DNR has hired 47 people to to help regulate fracking. Many of those employees will be focused on southern Illinois when fracking begins in the state since it is expected to be focused in that region.

According to the law, oil and gas drillers are required to apply for a permit to begin operations 30 days after registration by paying a nonrefundable fee of $13,500.

The permit application must also disclose how and where the well will be drilled, the amount of fluid to be used and at what pressure it will be injected into the well. Drillers also will have to disclose what chemicals will be used and at what concentration, and plans for everything from well safety to waste containment.

The DNR is required to post a copy of the permit application on its website within five days of its receipt and provide dates for the public to comment.

The department has 60 days to approve or reject applications.