Illinois Poll Shows Strong Opposition to Fracking

WillinoisNearly half of Illinois voters oppose fracking, according to a new poll by the Simon Institute. The statewide poll reveals 48.6% oppose fracking while only 31.8% believe it should be encouraged, even if there are economic benefits. Opponents outnumber supporters an all regions of the state, including downstate where fracking is promoted as a jobs plan.

The numbers reinforce that fracking is one of the issues which cost Governor Pat Quinn support among Democrats and independents in his losing re-election campaign. Illinois Democratic voters overwhelmingly oppose fracking with 61.9% against and 19.7% in favor. Independents oppose it as well, with 48.3% against and 30.6% in support.

Any Illinois candidate looking for support from young voters should stand against fracking. A whopping 74% of 18-24 year-olds don’t want it.

A solid 54% majority of Chicago residents are opposed. That’s a bad sign for Rahm Emanuel who claims his aggregation deal is a clean energy victory, even though it powers Chicago with natural gas from the Marcellus shale fracking fields.

An election analysis released in January by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute identified low turnout among Democrats, and downstate opposition as reasons for Governor Pat Quinn losing re-election. During the campaign Quinn faced protests against his support for fracking, and as this poll shows, his position is unpopular among the Democratic base. With neither candidate for Governor taking a position against fracking, it left little reason for concerned voters to show up on election day.

There’s no issue for which politicians and lobbyists in the statehouse bubble are more out of touch with Illinois voters than on fracking.

After a bill to regulate and launch fracking passed the Illinois legislature, industry lobbyists launched a campaign to portray opponents as a tiny fringe. Overwhelming public outcry against fracking at public hearings provided a reality check. A few accommodating statehouse green groups helped reinforced the false impression that regulation is a consensus middle ground. The Simon poll shows industry claims that fracking opposition is limited to a small group are outrageously false. Continue reading Illinois Poll Shows Strong Opposition to Fracking

Can Illinois Learn From New York's Victory Against Fracking?

WillinoisIllinois environmentalists are cheering the spectacular success of the movement to ban fracking in New York. The victory is justifiably spurring reflection on how it was done. What happened in New York that Illinois environmentalists can learn from?

~ Environmental and public health groups made an unambiguous, united push for a ban or moratorium, not regulation.
~ They kept constant, aggressive grassroots pressure on Governor Cuomo and other politicians, especially during election season.
~ State government conducted a thorough study on potential public health impacts before fracking began.
~ They took the fight to small towns and potentially impacted rural areas, not just New York City.
~ As Mark Ruffalo wrote, “The fact that we didn’t let the big greens come in and make back room deals was also important to note.”
~ They engaged in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, including over 90 arrests near Seneca Lake since October.

Essentially, New York fractivists took the opposite approach of most big green groups active in the Illinois statehouse.

Illinois greens started with a basic chemical disclosure bill several years ago rather than organizing the passionate grassroots desire for a ban. Although there were efforts to ask legislators to pass a moratorium, statehouse green groups remained focused on various regulatory bills. Some of them eventually won a seat at the negotiating table with industry lobbyists to write a regulatory law by ignoring the loud and frequent objection of environmentalists in impacted areas who said regulation cannot make fracking safe.

During the past year, pro-regulation groups joined Governor Pat Quinn in remaining silent about his unpopular support for fracking. Sierra Club even issued a greenwash endorsement of Quinn as a “climate leader” despite his horrible record on fossil fuel extraction.

Several groups continued to engage in the regulatory process without meaningful buy-in or communication with the downstate anti-fracking movement. They tell environmental audiences they prefer a ban, but told legislators they’ll settle for regulation. The result is a deeply divided movement that’s less effective on all energy issues.

What’s next for Illinois?

More fractivists are focusing on county government, like a victory led by Illinois People’s Action to stop a proposed oil drill in McLean county. Union county is forming a group to study the impacts of fracking and conventional drilling at the urging of the Shawnee Sentinels. There’s a good reason why Illinois law doesn’t allow counties to ban fracking. Some of them would actually do it.

In southern Illinois, lifelong residents and grandmothers are training to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience to stop fracking operations. Additionally, momentum is building to form a coalition similar to New York that will coordinate statewide action between groups. Continue reading Can Illinois Learn From New York’s Victory Against Fracking?

All Illinois Democrats have to do for re-election is govern like Democrats

WillinoisThere’s a simple lesson for Illinois Democrats from the Tuesday election. If you want to get re-elected as a Democrat in Illinois all you have to do is govern like a liberal Democrat.

It’s not complicated. Illinois is a Democratic state. A majority of voters are pro-union, pro-environment, pro-choice and progressive. The biggest employer is government, which does in fact create jobs. Lots of them.

Dick Durbin is a reliably liberal Senator from downstate. He’s pro-union, pro-environment, voted against the Iraq war, supports Obama, and he’s liberal on social issues. Illinois likes that. He won easy re-election in a tough year for Democrats.

Pat Quinn attacked the livelihood of public employees by pushing pension cuts. He shut down state facilities in small towns that depended on them. He supports fracking. His campaign complained about the Koch Brothers but his agenda as Governor was a slightly watered down version of Scott Walker.

That’s why Pat Quinn lost to the wild card option, Bruce Rauner. Turnout was down in Chicago, the suburban collar counties made a big swing toward Rauner, and southern Illinois Democrats stayed home.

Quinn won 64.3% in Cook county, the same percentage he got in 2010. But with turnout down, he earned about 79,000 fewer votes out of Cook than last time. That’s enough for a few Chicago-centric thinkers to claim, as they always do, that Cook County made the difference. But, even if Quinn had matched his 2010 turnout in Chicago, he still would have lost this election.

The suburban collar counties saw a large swing to the Republican. It partly came from Quinn losing a few percentage points. But Rauner gained more from voters who supported third party candidates in 2010.

For example, in DuPage county Quinn won 38.6% in 2010. He went down two points to 36.7% in 2014. The bigger swing came on the Republican side. DuPage gave Republican Bill Brady 54.3% in 2010. Rauner improved on that by six points to win 60.9%. Suburban voters who supported third party candidates in 2010 switched their vote to Rauner. That happened statewide but the swing was most dramatic in DuPage, Lake and other suburban counties where Brady wasn’t well known.

Rauner finished about as well in central Illinois as Bill Brady did in 2010. They won the same 63% in McLean, Brady’s home county. The fact that Rauner, despite being from Chicago, roughly matched the performance of a central Illinois hometown candidate is remarkable.

Democratic performance was down most dramatically in southern Illinois. It’s no wonder. Quinn cut pensions and jobs for the largest employers: state agencies, schools, and public universities. His main jobs plan for the region was passing a fracking law that’s unpopular with Democrats and independents. Those were the top two issues in the southern half of the state, despite the candidates’ attempt to ignore both. Continue reading All Illinois Democrats have to do for re-election is govern like Democrats

Congressman Shimkus gets backlash to deceptive fracking comments

WillinoisIllinois’ most embarrassing Congressman, John Shimkus, faced an outraged backlash for pro-fracking statements he made on Facebook. He’s already well known as a climate change denier and conspiracy theorist on the fringe of the energy debate. Although there’s a long tradition of coal mining in his district, fracking is very controversial.

Shimkus has a steady stream of constituents who regularly respond to his misleading and foolish Facebook posts. But several posts supporting fracking attracted unusually strong pushback.

The first recent post linked a radio interview in which Shimkus says fracking, “isn’t really new. Its been around since the ’40s.” This is a common talking point industry propagandists use to confuse people.
Some forms of vertical fracking have been around for decades. Recent debates and regulation are focused on horizontal, high-powered fracking, which people in the industry know was developed in the ’90s. Shimkus then says with no irony that “it’s difficult to separate what’s fact from fiction these days.” That’s especially true when someone’s Congressman is lying to them.
Shimkus then posted a picture of a fracking operation with the comment, “Looking forward to seeing this in Southern Illinois” that generated 85 mostly brutal responses from downstate residents.
  • Great idea! Let’s frack away our future! Goodbye geological stability. Hey…we’re going to need more lawyers, doctors, and environmental remediation services in the area to deal with all of the negative impacts of fracking. What a short sighted plan.
  • Southern Illinois has beauty beyond compare. Crystal clear water to drink. Clean air to breath. Why in the world do you think God would want you to do any more to this area than has already been done by strip mining and underground mining? Piling shale on the ground making our highways nasty. Please rethink this highway of thinking. You’ve been there for us in the past, please think of our future.
  • Proof we have the best congressman money can buy.
  • I’m not looking forward to such ruin of our region. Ban fracking. Put your support behind wind, solar and energy efficient design please, Otherwise, you do not have my vote.
  • Can we put one next to your house?
  • Yeah, because that well is so much more beautiful than Shawnee National Forest and the surrounding land. Idiot.
  • They are fracking in Central Illinois bypassing the Regulatory Act by staying under the volume that would cause them to wait for the rules to be finalized and by using fluids other than water to frack. See what they can get away with in this state! The Regulatory Act is going to be useless against these companies.
  • In 2012 the State of Texas reported $1.5 billion in revenues from all fracking activities. That same year the Texas Department of Transportation determined that fracking truck traffic was causing $4 billion in roadway damages statewide annually. http://www.FrackingRoadDamage.com
  • You support this you will condemn us all .It is your obligation to get the facts. Remember John we live on two fault lines.
  • “this” should be NOwhere near Southern Illinois. Trashing the land, air and using precious water to frack the earth? Oh also fracking near New Madrid fault….are you so out of touch you don’t see that?
  • So, will the first “test” sites be in YOUR backyard, contamination affecting YOUR family? Most folks boosting southern Illinois look forward to seeing forests, rock formations, lakes, and… Wineries… This picture does none of those justice. It also makes me want to move for the sake of my baby boy!!!!!!!
  • You are totally wrong about this issue; Illinois is one of the most beautiful states in the union with some of the best water anywhere. Now you want to ruin it? What the hell is wrong with you? We intend to fight this fight to the end!
  • You can’t restore ruined buildings from earthquakes, and you can’t restore polluted water once it has made people sick. You are gambling with people’s lives, to make a few dollars for a few people, most of whom don’t need it. Shame on you.
  • Fracking destroys. Fracking destroys wildlife. Fracking destroys tourism. Fracking destroys drinking water. Whoever is for Fracking has no empathy for our planet.
  • You are either incredibly stupid, incredibly uncaring, or a combination of both if you look forward to seeing this in Southern Illinois. Do you also look forward to the earthquakes that will devastate Southern Illinois? Do you look forward to the land and water being destroyed? What is WRONG with you politicians? Is that almighty dollar that you’re getting from all of these people destroying our planet going to be worth it when you also don’t have decent air to breathe, water to drink, or constituents to vote for you? I hope all politicians supporting fracking are ousted from office as soon as possible. Fracking in Southern Illinois is a terrible, terrible thing and the fact that you don’t know this makes me sick.
  • With all due respect, Congressman: ABSOLUTELY NOT! No way are the people of southern Illinois prepared for the noise, traffic, and pollution this will create. Take fracking to Chicago!
  • NO! This is *not* a sight I want to see in Southern Illinois, now or EVER! We live on two active faults. I have friends in many areas that have allowed fracking. They have constant earthquakes. No job, no income, is worth endangering millions of lives. Please re-think this.
  • why weren’t we considered for the Tesla Plant, you have any idea what 6500 decent jobs would mean to this district, well are you trying to bring long term development here? oh and talk to folks in Ohio about fracking jobs, transients living in hotels and apartments leaving on Friday, lots of work for restaurants, bars and gas stations and when the crews move on so do those crappy jobs…

I could copy dozens more.

Shimkus got cute with his response and posted a graphic of outdated and out of context quotes from former and current Obama administration officials. Then another of academics who have worked for the industry claiming there has been no water contamination from fracking.

I added my own comment this time that got 14 likes.

243 cases of drinking well water contaminated in Pennsylvania. Does it bother anyone else to have their Congressman lie to them?
http://triblive.com/mobile/6696428-96/wells-released-gas

Plenty of others chimed in with more stories, studies, and facts to correct Shimkus’ attempt to mislead his constituents. Continue reading Congressman Shimkus gets backlash to deceptive fracking comments

Illinois Newspaper Gives Up on Journalism, Bends Over for Oil & Gas Industry

WillinoisThe Southern Illinoisan has a long-running competition with the Belleville News-Democrat over which Illinois newspaper has the strongest bias in favor of the coal industry. So I was pleasantly surprised last year when I saw the Southern Illinoisan doing good reporting on the fracking issue, even giving frequent voice to the opposition. That changed.

A recent article in the Southern is so ridiculous, so over the top misleading, it looks like they’ve given up on doing real journalism about fracking.

Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment (SAFE) sent out a press release last week full of facts and figures on worker safety problems in the fracking industry. Illinois’ weak fracking law doesn’t address the problem. The Southern first responded with an article that gives more space to defensive responses from industry supporters than it does to citing facts and studies. That showed bias, but you won’t believe what they published next!

The Southern ran an article titled “Fracking workers: It’s safe, it’s good” with anecdotal stories from two workers in the industry who have witnessed non-fatal accidents at fracking sites in North Dakota. There was no mention of the fact that North Dakota now has the highest rate of deadly workplace accidents, thanks largely to the fracking industry.

The article is no different than running anecdotal stories about two heavy smokers who lived past age 90 and failing to mention studies linking cigarettes to cancer. If it didn’t hurt those two it must be safe, right? It’s not journalism. It’s propaganda.

Maybe tomorrow the Southern will feature an article about two people who haven’t been in deadly traffic accidents, so clearly all roads must be perfectly safe! Don’t worry about those pesky rumors and studies on how many people die in auto accidents each year.

The Southern published good coverage of issues related to fracking for a while. I’ve watched as their bias has grown more obvious. When hundreds of people attended the two southern Illinois public hearings on fracking, they scrubbed any mention of the repeated calls by multiple members of the public for non-violent civil disobedience to stop the industry. When Josh Fox spoke to a crowd of over 600 locals, they did no follow-up story at all. Continue reading Illinois Newspaper Gives Up on Journalism, Bends Over for Oil & Gas Industry

How Much Fracking Will Remain Unregulated in Illinois?

WillinoisFracking has begun in Illinois. Governor Pat Quinn’s Department of Natural Resources issued a permit for a test well at a site where oil fracking is planned. The well isn’t subject to Illinois fracking rules due to loopholes in the law passed last year.

By utilizing methods that require a lower volume of water, and exploiting other loopholes, oil frackers can avoid new regulation. As Illinois State University emeritus professor William Rau writes, that will deny the state tax revenue from those operations, along with other consequences.

Public notice requirements, baseline water testing, insurance provisions, modest environmental protections and setbacks, earthquake mitigation, bans on open pit storage of frack waste water, etc., are all gone. Illinois will become the wild and woolly west of fracking.

The public doesn’t yet know how much horizontal fracking will occur outside compliance with the law. Illinois residents are facing a major public safety crisis and state politicians don’t seem to notice.

Opposition continues as people learn more about the inadequacy of a law that was written behind closed doors and rushed through the legislature with very little public scrutiny. A recent day of action saw citizens in Chicago and southern Illinois bring accountability to those responsible for the dangerously weak fracking law.

“For sale” signs were placed at the campaign office of state representative Mike Bost, who co-sponsored the law while claiming it would “keep our air clean, protect our water supply and maintain our environment.” In fact, the law contains no provisions to limit toxic air emissions that harm the health of those living nearby.

Bost is running for U.S. Congress in Illinois’ 12th district. Like many legislators, he mistakenly believed the fracking law was a consensus issue. Now, he’s confronted with the reality of people in his district outraged at seeing the law-making and rule-making process up for sale to the oil and gas industry. Continue reading How Much Fracking Will Remain Unregulated in Illinois?

Illinois Mine Safety Head Took Thousands in Campaign Contributions from Coal Baron Chris Cline

WillinoisTony Mayville is a candidate for State Representative in southern Illinois and Chairman of the Washington County Democratic Party. He has also supervised the Mine Safety Division and served as acting director of Mines and Minerals at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Over several years, including time while Mayville was responsible for regulating Illinois coal mines, he collected thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from companies owned by billionaire coal mine operator Chris Cline. In November 2013 a fatal accident occurred at a coal mine owned by Chris Cline and regulated by Tony Mayville.

Mayville chairs the political fund of the Washington County Democratic Party Central Committee. Their campaign finance reports show the committee raising thousands of dollars from multiple companies owned by the Cline Group at least since 2008 through 2013.

Several contributions were from Cline subsidiary Hillsboro Energy. They gave Mayville’s Washington County Democratic fund $1,000 in 2008, $500 in 2010, and another $1,000 in 2011. During that time, the company was seeking a permit from the Department of Natural Resources for the Deer Run longwall mine. Mayville was already collecting coal industry campaign contributions when Governor Pat Quinn made him acting director of the Office of Mines and Minerals, where he would oversee the mine permitting process.

Similarly, Mayville’s Washington County committee took $500 from Macoupin Energy LLC, another Cline subsidiary seeking a new mine permit.

More recently, Cline-owned Foresight Energy donated $1,000 in 2012 to the party committee, and another $2,000 to Mayville’s state representative campaign fund in March of 2013. Foresight Energy’s donation to Mayville’s campaign attracted negative attention, so last week his campaign sent a letter to the state board of elections claiming it was accepted by accident. He transferred the contribution to the Washington county party committee he chairs. The distinction may be legally significant, but regardless of which of his committees he used, Mayville accepted campaign contributions from coal mine owners while overseeing mine safety at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

This obvious conflict of interest highlights the notoriously cozy relationship between the Illinois Office of Mines and Minerals and industries they’re charged with regulating. Citizens have had to fight foolish coal mines permits granted by an agency with employees collecting political donations from mine owners. The fatal accident last November at a mine owned by Chris Cline is a tragic reminder that regulation of the coal industry is literally a life and death issue. Continue reading Illinois Mine Safety Head Took Thousands in Campaign Contributions from Coal Baron Chris Cline

Video: Why Illinois Regulators Won't Make Fracking Safe

WillinoisA disturbing new video of poisoned water, leaking oil rigs, and lax enforcement at Illinois oil wells highlights why proposed fracking regulation won’t protect the state’s environment or people. The Greenpeace interview with a southern Illinois native and former oil worker shows a fracking test well in a neglected part of the state where weak enforcement at existing wells is already endangering the public.

Illinois’ new fracking law provides funding for the Office of Mines and Minerals to hire new staff. But, that would only be a solution if lack of staffing were the primary problem. Governor Pat Quinn has refused to clean house and restructure an agency notoriously cozy with industry.

The rules proposed for fracking are a sign the agency intends to continue the same old culture of weak enforcement that allows companies to pay meaningless fines while continuing to operate. Proposed fines from $50 to a few thousand dollars are pocket change, and even those can be waived at the agency’s discretion. Companies with hundreds of past violations may receive permits for new wells, as we’ve already seen with OMM’s poor oversight of coal mines. Continue reading Video: Why Illinois Regulators Won’t Make Fracking Safe

Will Illinois Ban Fracking After Disaster Strikes Or Before?

WillinoisAn Illinois ban on fracking is inevitable. The question is whether it will happen before or after a major fracking disaster.

The public comment period on Illinois’ draft regulations ended January 3 with groups in potentially impacted areas repeating their call for a ban on fracking. A group of southern Illinois residents representing several grassroots groups drove to Illinois Department of Natural Resources headquarters in Springfield to join with Frack Free Illinois in delivering comments on the regulation and a petition asking Governor Quinn to oversee a rewrite.

Tabitha Tripp, of Anna-Jonesboro, said in a statement, “these inadequate rules will leave nothing but legacies of disasters to those who voted on this irresponsible law and abandon Illinois tax payers who will indeed foot the bill for public health issues like cancer and leukemia.”

The regulation will likely be improved before being presented to the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules for final approval. Even groups who supported the law are objecting to the Department of Natural Resources’ flaccid follow up. A few politicians will claim a victory for the environment after DNR makes marginal changes. But, the real weakness in the rules follows from the inadequacy of the law itself.

The law does not address the consequences of a tornado hitting a fracking site. It does not resolve the release of chemicals in a major flood, despite the fact that fracking will likely happen in floodplains of a region bordered by two of the highest volume rivers in America. The law provides for monitoring, but not preventing, fracking induced earthquakes despite the fact that it’s expected along major fault lines. If a large groundwater source, such as the Mahomet aquifer, is depleted or contaminated it could impact the water supply of hundreds of thousands of people.

A long list of other omissions in the law may be less dramatic but will be just as dangerous. For example, there’s no provision for monitoring air emissions at fracking sites, which a University of Colorado study linked to chronic health problems for those living nearby. DNR is allowed to waive fines that are already too low, and issue new permits to repeat offenders.

When pushing for the law, Governor Quinn claimed it will protect the environment. That was a lie. Continue reading Will Illinois Ban Fracking After Disaster Strikes Or Before?

Republicans Revive EPA Tractor Dust Conspiracy Theory to Gut Environmental Protections

WillinoisThe EPA wants to regulate tractor dust. Can you believe that? It’s getting to the point where a man can’t even drive his tractor down a dirt road without big government getting in the way!

That’s what Congressman Rodney Davis wants you to believe anyway. It’s a good soundbite and the fact that it’s complete nonsense hasn’t stopped some politicians from peddling this conspiracy theory no matter how many times it’s debunked.

Davis sponsored an amendment to let the Department of Agriculture comment on EPA regulation. In speeches and press statements, he argued that EPA is out of touch with rural America by reviving the old yarn that they want to regulate tractor dust on dirt roads.

Congressman John Shimkus was telling this dusty story back when Rodney Davis was still on his staff. Since then, the EPA administrator has said several times that there’s no plan to consider regulating tractor dust, and multiple news organizations have debunked the talking point. At this point it should be absolutely clear to everyone that it simply isn’t true.

Undeterred by reality, there’s even a bill called the “Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act.” What it actually does is prevent EPA from enacting regulations of soot and particulate matter that are only applied to major sources of industrial pollution, not farms. These are pollutants, often from coal power plants, that cause lung disease, heart attacks, asthma attacks, and other deadly health problems.

In other words, this has nothing to do with protecting rural America. Politicians who talk about tractor dust regulation want rural Americans to fight for the coal industry’s right to kill them a little faster. Continue reading Republicans Revive EPA Tractor Dust Conspiracy Theory to Gut Environmental Protections