THE BLOG

The Statehouse Bubble Bursts: Illinois Revolts Against Fracking

01/02/2014 10:46 am ET | Updated Mar 04, 2014

The Statehouse acted in a bubble when they passed Illinois' fracking law in 2013. The cooperation of a few compromising green groups, the support of a Governor who sometimes defends the environment, and the enthusiasm of a few southern Illinois legislators led many to believe the regulatory bill which allows fracking to move forward was a consensus issue with broad support. In spite of outrage from the environmental grassroots, those who opposed the weak regulatory bill were dismissed by some statehouse insiders as a radical element to be ignored.

The bubble burst after the people of Illinois made their voices heard at five hearings held across the state on rules proposed by the Department of Natural Resources. In ten hours of public comments, only half a dozen people expressed support for fracking. Person after person chided DNR for the weak rules and many declared that fracking cannot be made safe. Governor Pat Quinn and the legislature are grossly out of touch with the views of the public expressed at the hearings.

Roughly 400 citizens came to the Decatur hearing, making it the largest central Illinois crowd for an environmental issue anyone I spoke to can remember. Farmers, clergymen, medical professionals, students, a former economic adviser to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, a Democratic candidate for Congress, and other local residents expressed their disappointment at the proposed rules. Even the few statehouse environmental groups who supported the fracking law are condemning the rushed, watered-down regulation. A Republican write-in candidate for U.S. Senate was the lone voice in Decatur who favors fracking.

The Effingham hearing was rescheduled on short notice due to a snow storm. The rushed hearing schedule and comment period during the holiday season seem designed to discourage participation but the response was still overwhelming. Frequent comments were made on the ridiculously low fines for rule violations, the lack of local control allowed by county governments, restrictions on public participation in the permit hearing process, public health threats including cancer and birth defects, and the failure to regulate Volatile Organic Compounds or radioactivity in fracking waste.

The comments reveal a strong sense of people who feel betrayed. Betrayed by a Governor who lied when he claimed his law would protect the environment. Betrayed when the Department of Natural Resources further weakened an already inadequate fracking law. Betrayed by state legislators who claimed to represent them while taking hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions from fracking interests. And betrayed by a few Chicago-headquartered environmental groups who marginalized the voices of people in impacted areas while claiming to speak in their name. Yet, they're still determined to push back.

The Chicago hearing had a raucous crowd, but the two southernmost hearings took a more ardent tone. In Carbondale and Ina, calls for nonviolent civil disobedience to resist fracking outnumbered those who merely asked for better rules to make it safe.

The defiant tone reached a crescendo with a fired up crowd of over 200 at the final hearing in Carbondale. Politicians and interested businessmen who believe fracking in Illinois is "inevitable" should watch video of the Carbondale hearing for a reality check about the stiff opposition they'll face.

One local resident expressed what many are feeling.

In the end, it is we, the people, who must protect ourselves, our communities, and our land from the menace of fracking. And so, I urge my fellow Illinoisans to join me in resisting fracking in Southern Illinois. Resist with your comments, resist with your letters, resist with your voices. And if fracking does come to our region, resist with your bodies in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. If the IDNR does not do its duty to protect the public, it is up to us to do so.

Detailed, thoughtful comments on specifics of the proposed rules were made by the same people who made passionate calls for resistance, such as the young woman who said,

We are here to join hands in solidarity with the people of New Brunswick, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Alberta, New York, Oklahoma, the United Kingdom and Romania. There are thousands of hands locking together to barricade the road that would allow such an epically blind industry to poison the waters, air and soil. The people behind these companies need to remember they are only human and they are part of this congruent system we call earth. Hydraulic facturing will not happen it southern Illinois! It will not happen! We will join hands until this heinous act ends throughout the world. We are strong and we came here to fight!

The crowd approved with wild applause. They're uninterested in timid compromises that marginally improve the rules. Arrests at the Capitol leading up to a vote on the fracking regulatory bill last summer were a small hint of things to come. Legislators who believe they finished dealing with the fracking issue when they voted on a regulatory law will soon be forced to adjust their perception of political realities.