This past summer, the issue of fracking took center stage in Illinois in a way that it hadn’t in years. In May, Woolsey Operating Company LLC submitted and was granted (after 4 rewrites, 10,000 signatures in opposition, and over 4,000 public comments of concern) the first High Volume Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing well permit in Illinois.
In short: Big Oil took its first stab at fracking in Illinois.
BUT, in a huge victory to people power, within a span of a just a few months, Woolsey withdrew their permit application. Their reason? “Financial burden.” The real reason? More complicated.
Though cost was surely a driver in this sudden change in plans, one significant factor in this story was conveniently left out of the narrative…. even though it’s the subject of a lawsuit by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Section 15 of Woolsey’s (now-rescinded) permit identifies one - and only one - injection well for disposal of their fracking waste.
Affectionately referred to as “salt water,” fracking wastewater contains both the cocktail of toxic chemicals (including benzene, formaldehyde, and hydrochloric acid just to name a few) used in the fracking process, but also the chemicals and radioactive materials found naturally deep underground that are brought to the surface during the extraction process.
There is no way to clean this toxic waste water so that it is safe for humans or the environment. So instead... it’s disposed of deep underground in injection wells. Right near our groundwater supply.
Here’s where we introduce to you: Trueflo #1.
Trueflo #1 is the injection well associated with Woolsey’s permit located in White County and owned by Trueflow LLC, based in New York. (To reiterate: Trueflo #1 is the well,Trueflow LLC is the company)
Ten days before Woolsey’s permit was granted, Trueflo #1 spilled…. releasing over 400 gallons of oil and over 2,000 gallons of wastewater into the surrounding fields and streams.
This meant: Woolsey had yet another permit approval process ahead of them in order to use a new injection well…. Which was, of course, an unforeseen cost that likely played a large role in tipping the profitability of the project.
On the one hand, it’s tempting to chuckle at the irony that failed fracking infrastructure was the main reason fracking was stopped in Illinois.
But that ignores a much larger problem and disregards the people of Southern Illinois greatly endangered by natural gas drilling.
The fact of the matter is: in the oil and gas industry, spills and leaks of toxic materials are commonplace.
Which bring us to the larger question:
How could there possibly be so many spills?
The state agencies tasked with regulating oil and gas extraction are set up in such a way that they lack both the resources and the incentive to oversee infrastructure and enforce laws.
Three of the violations Trueflo #1 was cited with on August 21st include:
Failure to build a fence around the site
Usage of an illegal and unlined pit
And usage of an unburied hose that “appears to be temporary in nature.” (There are photos with the report, it does look just like a garden hose.)
Photo accompanying IDNR Notice of Violation, Aug. 21, 2017
The underlying theme in all of these easily visible violations: there is little to no accountability and no state oversight... and well operators know it.
Under the law, injection wells are required to self-report every year, but unless there is a complaint, someone from the Department of Natural Resources is only going to inspect the site once every five years.
What’s worse, this is not the first time Trueflow was cited with these same violations.
The fact that such concrete, visible, and specific rules could be broken and remain broken for years points to an acute lack of enforcement.
Violation notices are written up, and then what?
In regards to the spill in August, genuine accountability seemed within reach when Attorney General Lisa Madigan decided to file suit on Trueflow Solutions on behalf of the state of Illinois.
Finally, after three months of court dates rescheduled as closed conference calls, a public hearing was held on December 1st.
Yet, the landowners in attendance were not given a chance to speak and left the hearing with no reason to believe that the clean up they’ve been promised will really happen this time after another predictable round of deadlines and reduced fines were laid out.
The follow up hearing was held January 8th, 2018 and the result was as predictable and mind-numbingly infuriating as ever- Trueflow was once again granted an extension on the clean-up, and no fines were levied.
Since spills of toxic materials are so common, it would only make sense to assume that the clean up procedures are well planned, funded, and implemented by the industry, right? Wrong.
According to the latest reports from folks living nearby the well: a truly comprehensive clean up process has yet to happen. A huge stumbling block in the cleanup process is, as always... money. Meanwhile, nearby residents face serious threats of water contamination.
There are no requirements in the Illinois Oil and Gas Act, or the Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act, that companies must have funds set aside or proof of insurance for cleanup before drilling can begin.
When taken in context, this dire oversight comes as no surprise; there is no reason to expect that Oil and Gas companies will be held accountable for the messes they make, starting with the dangerously lax laws and regulations and following right through to the repeated lack of enforcement.
All of these slippery, closed door conversations, and lack of accountability bring up a larger question. If we know that Illinois already can’t handle safely operating the oil and gas infrastructure we have (and lacks the legal or logistical capacity to safely operate) - why do we allow for the consideration of new wells?
We shouldn’t. That’s why we’re still fighting for a permanent #FrackingBan in Illinois.